Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Photo of author
Last updated on

Reviewed by

Raj Dasgupta, MD

Upper airway resistance syndrome (UARS) is a condition similar to obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). It happens when the throat’s soft tissue relaxes during sleep, making the airway smaller. This leads to poor sleep and daytime problems like feeling very tired. With UARS, the airway isn’t fully blocked like in OSA, but it still makes breathing harder.

People with UARS might wake up briefly many times during the night without realizing it. This can make their sleep bad, similar to OSA.

Symptoms of Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome (UARS)

Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome

Many people with UARS might wake up during the night, but some may not realize the other symptoms while they sleep. People with UARS often notice problems during the day after having a rough night’s sleep due to disturbances. Common symptoms of UARS include:

  • Snoring
  • Feeling extremely tired during the day
  • Not feeling rested even after sleeping enough hours
  • Waking up with a headache
  • Feeling down or depressed
  • Waking up at night for no clear reason
  • Moments during the night where breathing feels hard
  • No moments of completely stopped breathing (apnea)
  • Overall, life quality decreases due to bad sleep

If UARS isn’t treated, it can lead to more serious issues like heart problems, high blood pressure, and metabolic conditions.

How Is UARS Different From Sleep Apnea?

UARS (Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome) and sleep apnea share similar symptoms, but UARS is generally milder. Unlike sleep apnea, UARS doesn’t typically involve significant pauses in breathing.

Also, UARS patients are usually of average weight, while sleep apnea patients are often overweight or obese. Untreated UARS can progress to sleep apnea.

Causes of upper airway resistance syndrome

If you have Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome (UARS), it means your upper airways have some differences that make it harder to breathe while you sleep. These differences usually involve narrowness and resistance in two specific areas:

  1. The space between the uvula (the fleshy bit at the back of your throat) and the soft palate.
  2. The space between the uvula and the epiglottis (a small flap that protects your windpipe).

Apart from these physical traits, certain other factors can make it more likely for someone to develop UARS:

  • People with UARS often have a normal BMI (Body Mass Index), unlike Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome (OSAS), which is more associated with obesity. However, obesity can still contribute to UARS, especially in younger individuals with severe obesity.

  • Women, especially those who are premenopausal or perimenopausal, may be slightly more prone to UARS compared to men.

Diagnosis process for upper airway resistance syndrome

If you’re experiencing interrupted sleep and daytime tiredness, see a healthcare provider or sleep specialist. They’ll ask about your symptoms and medical history.

To check for UARS, they might recommend a sleep study (polysomnography).

UARS isn’t officially recognized by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, but your healthcare provider can still help you with a treatment plan.

Complications of UARS

If you don’t treat UARS, it can really mess up your life. Over time, you might deal with problems like feeling sad, trouble sleeping, or feeling super tired. If you leave UARS untreated, it can even cause high blood pressure and heart issues.

Treatment for upper airway resistance syndrome

Treatment options for upper airway resistance syndrome (UARS) are similar to those for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), as UARS is not considered a separate condition. While there are no specific FDA-approved medications for UARS, various treatments can help manage its symptoms:

  1. CPAP Therapy: CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) therapy is the most common treatment for UARS. It involves using a machine that delivers pressurized air into your airway during sleep, helping to keep it open.

  2. Surgery: Surgery on the upper airway may be recommended for individuals who do not respond well to CPAP therapy or prefer not to use it. This surgical intervention aims to alleviate obstructions in the airway.

  3. Orthodontic Treatments: Orthodontic procedures, such as using devices like mandibular advancement devices or rapid maxillary distraction, can reposition the lower jaw to reduce UARS symptoms by opening up the airway.

  4. Oral Appliances: Oral appliances are wearable devices designed to reposition the tongue and jaw during sleep, thereby helping to maintain an open airway and alleviate UARS symptoms.

While these treatments can be beneficial for managing UARS, it’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the most suitable option based on individual circumstances and preferences.

Learn more: best anti-snoring devices

Can You Prevent UARS?

Here are some tips to help improve your sleep and possibly prevent UARS:

  1. Change Sleep Position: Try sleeping on your side instead of your back. This might help reduce symptoms.

  2. Maintain Healthy Weight: Losing extra weight could help relieve symptoms of UARS, similar to sleep apnea.

  3. Avoid Alcohol and Sedatives: Steer clear of alcohol and sedative medicines. They can relax your throat muscles, making it easier for your airway to collapse during sleep.

Need professional help to diagnose and address your sleep problems? Schedule an online consultation with sleep specialist Dr. Owen Napleton.

Leave a Comment

Online Sleep Consultation With Dr. Owen Napleton