Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea is a serious breathing problem that interrupts your sleep.

Obstructive sleep apnea (also called OSA or obstructive sleep apnea-hypopnea syndrome) means you have short pauses in your breathing when you sleep. These breathing pauses – called apneas or apnea events – last for 10 to 30 seconds, maybe longer. People with obstructive sleep apnea can stop breathing dozens or hundreds of times each night leading to sleep disruption and low levels of oxygen.

How obstructive sleep apnea affects your breathing

Obstructive sleep apnea stops you from breathing normally at night. If you have obstructive sleep apnea, you probably repeat this cycle while you sleep:

First, you may sleep quietly and breathe normally. The air in your airway (breathing tube) flows easily to your lungs.

Then, you begin to snore loudly. This is a sign that your airway is partly blocked. If the blockage worsens this may affect the amount of air that can enter your lungs and your oxygen level can drop. (When doctors see this kind of drop in oxygen level due to a partially blocked airway in a sleep test, they call it a hypopnea.)

Next, your airway closes off completely. No air reaches your lungs. Your brain is telling you to breathe as usual, but you can’t take in a breath because your airway has closed off. This is called apnea. After a pause of 10-30 seconds or more, your brain realizes you haven’t been breathing, so it jolts you awake enough for you to take a breath. You take in a big gasp of air and start breathing again.

This cycle can continue through the night: you breathe quietly; you snore; you have a pause in your breathing; you gasp for breath; and you start breathing again. Most people have dozens or hundreds of sleep apnea events a night. This means dozens or hundreds of interruptions of sleep. You can’t get the restful sleep you need to be healthy.

The combination of both apnea events (pauses in breathing) and hyponea events (partly blocked breathing) is called obstructive sleep apnea-hyponea syndrome (OSAHS).

What can make a person’s airway collapse during sleep?

There are a few reasons why a person’s airway can partly or completely collapse during sleep:

  • your throat muscles are too relaxed to hold your airway open
  • your tongue blocks your airway
  • fatty tissue blocks your airway
  • you have a narrow airway.

Get the flu vaccine and encourage others in your family to get the flu vaccine too. Regardless of what you may have heard, the flu vaccine is generally very safe and greatly reduces your risks. The flu vaccine is recommended for everyone aged 6 months or older unless there is a reason it should not be given.

The flu vaccine is especially recommended for people who are at higher risk and those who have regular contact with people at higher risk. People at higher risk from the flu include:

  • People with health conditions such as lung diseases (e.g., asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
  • People 65 years of age and older and children under 60 months of age
  • Pregnant women
  • Indigenous peoples
  • Residents of nursing homes and other chronic care facilities

Getting the flu vaccine also helps reduce the risk that you will spread the flu to others in your family and community who may be at higher risk of serious complications. The more people who get the flu vaccine in your community, the less risk to everyone of getting the flu. This is called “herd immunity” or “community immunity”.

If you are pregnant, getting the flu vaccine can reduce the risk that your baby will get the flu after it is born.

In individuals aged 65 and older, the immune system response to the flu vaccine is not as strong as it is in younger people. Those aged 65 and older may get more benefit from the high-dose flu vaccine, which has four times the usual dose and is now available for free to seniors in Ontario.

Other measures that can help stop the flu from spreading include:

  • Wash your hands regularly. When soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • Keep your hands away from your nose, mouth and eyes when in public
  • Regularly clean common areas of your home (e.g., door handles, light switches, hand rails, taps, remote controls, keyboards)
  • Avoid crowded places and people who have a cold or the flu
  • Sneeze and cough into a tissue then throw it away right after use and wash your hands. If you don’t have a tissue, sneeze and cough into your sleeve.
  • If you are sick with the flu, stay home from work, school and public places
  • Find a flu vaccine clinic in Ontario by visiting

Typical flu symptoms can include:

  • Tiredness
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Muscle aches
  • Chills
  • Runny or congested nose
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Lack of appetite

If you get the flu, stay home and take these steps:

  • Get bed rest
  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Manage symptoms (e.g., headache, congestion) with non-prescription medications
  • Reduce contact with others to prevent passing on the infection

If you get the flu and have any health concerns, contact your health-care provider. If you are at a higher risk of complications from the flu, your health-care provider may prescribe an antiviral medication for you to take. Antiviral medications may reduce the severity of the flu and how long it lasts.

Can I get the flu from the flu vaccine?

No, you cannot get the flu from the flu vaccine since the viruses in the vaccines have been altered so that they cannot cause an infection.

Is the flu vaccine safe?

Yes, the flu vaccine is generally very safe. There are so many flu vaccines given every year, yet very few significant side effects. Generally, the health risks from getting the flu are much greater than the health risks from the flu vaccine.

Why do I need a flu vaccine every year?

The flu viruses that spread around the world are different every year. Therefore the flu vaccine contains protection against a new set of viruses every year. Plus the immunity you get from a flu vaccine decreases over time. 

I’ve never had the flu. Why should I get the flu vaccine?

Even if you’ve never been in a serious vehicle collision in the past, do you still put on your seat belt? Most people do since it greatly reduces their risk of injury and death in the unlikely event of a vehicle collision. The fact that you have not been infected with the flu in the past does not mean you won’t be infected in the future. Getting the flu vaccine greatly reduces your risk of the flu.

Getting the flu vaccine also helps protect others who may not be able to fight off the infection as well as you. The more people who get vaccinated in a community, the less chance the infection spreads around.

What is the difference between a cold and the flu?

The common cold is a name given to minor infections in the nose and throat. The flu is a more serious disease caused by viruses that are different from cold viruses. Flu and cold infections are both very contagious.

With the flu, it is common to have a fever, headache, body aches, and weakness. With a cold, these symptoms are much less common.

If you are not sure if you have a cold or the flu, refer to the Public Health Agency of Canada chart, IS IT A COLD OR THE FLU?.