Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome

What Is Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome?

People do not just wake up a single day and complain of an obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Rather, obstructive sleep apnea is developed over time to form a progressive disorder that lies on the end of the spectrum associated with disordered breathing.

At the other far end of the spectrum is benign snoring. Snoring has no effects on the health of the individual but may cause a lot of discomfort to other people. When snoring progresses from a mere noise-making disorder to a dangerous and harmful disorder of sleep apnea, it firsts develops as upper airway resistance syndrome (UARS).

Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome Picture 1

There are a lot of questions regarding UARS. What is it? How does it relate to OSA? What treatment options are available to avoid progression to OSA? And much more. All these questions and others are what we aspire to answer.

To fully understand UARS, we will need a brief recap of snoring since UARS is a progression towards OSA from snoring. Snoring refers to an irritating sound that is produced when air flows past relaxed or loose tissues in the throat.

In essence, snoring is a clear indicator that there is resistance on the upper part of the respiratory system. The greater the resistance, the greater the amount of pressure required for breathing to get past the resistance. Upper airway resistance syndrome occurs when a natural and harmless snoring disorder becomes a troublesome disorder.

Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome Picture 2 - Copy


Causes responsible for UARS are similar to those that bring about OSA. These reasons range from naturally narrowed windpipes, loose fat tissues around the throat collapsing and blocking the airway, or the position of the tongue falling back during deep slumbers.

Victims suffering from UARS require greater breathing effort to bypass the obstructions. Not all patients with UARS snore, however, their breathing is also heavy and labored. Most sufferers of UARS agree that their breathing efforts are only comparable to trying to breathe through a straw.

Just as is in the case of OSA, the brain must awaken from its deep sleep to increase the respiratory performance of the body. When the mind is constantly aroused from the deep levels of sleep, it is not able to completely refresh so that you can perform important tasks on the following day. That said, symptoms such as excessive daytime sleepiness and chronic fatigue may persist for longer periods and are also present in obstructive sleep apnea.

Aging and weight can also cause a shift from regular snoring to UARS as there is an increase in fatty deposits around the throat as well as a decrease in muscle tones thereby increasing material resistance to smooth airflow. Also, most women in their third trimester in giving birth may develop UARS due to excessive weight again.


  •    Chronic insomnia
  •    Frequent nocturnal awakenings
  •    Excessive sleepiness during the day
  •    Difficulty in both going and maintaining sleep


OSA more in men than in women whereas UARS affects both males and females equally.

  • In most cases, patients suffering from OSA may be overweight or obese (although they can still be of normal weight) whereas those suffering from UARS often maintain their weight.
  • Obstructive sleep apnea can lead to complications if not properly addressed. The long-term effects of the disorder come about due to the interference of the apnea and hypopnea events by low blood pressure. A decrease in blood pressure can cause heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, heart arrhythmias, and heart failure.

Patients who ignore to treat UARS are more susceptible to developing OSA and the accompanying risks and health problems.

Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome


Treatment methods for UARS are coincidentally similar to those of OSA. However, one particular method, the CPAP therapy may only be applicable in the treatment of UARS as the last option, rather than the immediate treatment that it offers for OSA.

1. Oral/Dental appliances

Dental appliances can be used independently or together with the CPAP therapy to treat mild or moderate levels of OSA infection. This is achieved by reducing pressure settings for OSA patient. When it comes to treating UARS, dental appliances are considered as the first option reason being that they can move the jaw forward or hold the tongue firmly in one place so that obstructions are reduced or eliminated.

2. Behavior and lifestyle remedies

This method entails practicing good sleep hygiene. That said, rest and sleep at night should always be given top priority. Eating right and getting adequate exercises can help avoid weight gain while avoiding the use of sedatives and alcoholic drinks before sleep can significantly reduce obstructions at night. Sleeping positions should also be well monitored to avoid situations where gravity aids in obstructions, for example, when an individual is sleeping on their backs.

  3. CPAP Therapy

CPAP therapy is an effective method of treating sleep apnea but can also be used to treat UARS. The treatment entails the use of air pressure via mask to open up the windpipe thereby reducing obstruction.

As much as CPAP therapy is the primary prescription for OSA and UARS, it has received low patient compliance thereby limiting its effectiveness. The absence of controlled random trials to determine the strength of the treatment method are among the few challenges that continue to limit its functionality.

If by any chance you believe that your snoring problem is becoming a point of concern, or you suspect that you might be suffering from obstructive sleep apnea or upper airway resistance, contact immediate help from a doctor or a specialist. From this point, the doctor may opt to carry out a sleep study to diagnose and probably treat the disorder.

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