Severe upper airway obstruction during sleep

Clin Rev Allergy Immunol. 2003 Oct;25(2):191-210. doi: 10.1385/CRIAI:25:2:191.


Few disorders may manifest with predominantly sleep-related obstructive breathing. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a common disorder, varies in severity and is associated with significant cardiovascular and neurocognitive morbidity. It is estimated that between 8 and 18 million people in the United States have at least mild OSA. Although the exact mechanism of OSA is not well-delineated, multiple factors contribute to the development of upper airway obstruction and include anatomic, mechanical, neurologic, and inflammatory changes in the pharynx. OSA may occur concomitantly with asthma. Approximately 74% of asthmatics experience nocturnal symptoms of airflow obstruction secondary to reactive airways disease. Similar cytokine, chemokine, and histologic changes are seen in both disorders. Sleep deprivation, chronic upper airway edema, and inflammation associated with OSA may further exacerbate nocturnal asthma symptoms. Allergic rhinitis may contribute to both OSA and asthma. Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is the gold standard treatment for OSA. Treatment with CPAP therapy has also been shown to improve both daytime and nighttime peak expiratory flow rates in patients with concomitant OSA and asthma. It is important for allergists to be aware of how OSA may complicate diagnosis and treatment of asthma and allergic rhinitis. A thorough sleep history and high clinical suspicion for OSA is indicated, particularly in asthma patients who are refractory to standard medication treatments.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Airway Obstruction / diagnosis*
  • Airway Obstruction / epidemiology
  • Airway Obstruction / therapy
  • Airway Resistance / physiology
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology
  • Humans
  • Morbidity
  • Oxygen Consumption / physiology
  • Risk Factors
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / diagnosis*
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / epidemiology
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / therapy*
  • Snoring / diagnosis
  • Snoring / physiopathology
  • Snoring / therapy
  • United States / epidemiology