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What Is Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome?

Medically Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on June 14, 2021

Upper airway resistance syndrome (UARS) happens when the soft tissue in your throat relaxes and doesn’t allow proper airflow while you sleep.

It’s similar to obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) but not as severe. Some experts classify UARS as a condition that falls somewhere between snoring and sleep apnea.

With UARS, you still have trouble sleeping and daytime sleepiness. But the disrupted breathing isn’t serious enough for your doctor to label it as traditional sleep apnea.

Certain treatments and lifestyle changes can help you manage your UARS symptoms to avoid complications later on.

What Are the Symptoms of UARS?

Symptoms of UARS can include:

  • Snoring
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Disturbed or poor sleep
  • Trouble falling asleep
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble with memory or thinking

How Is UARS Different From Sleep Apnea?

The symptoms of UARS, though similar to those of sleep apnea, are generally less severe.

A big difference between the two conditions is that people with UARS don’t usually have pauses or decreases in breathing. If they do, these episodes are mild. On the other hand, those with sleep apnea often have periods of disrupted breathing.

Another difference is that people with UARS are usually of average weight. Those with sleep apnea tend to be overweight or obese.

Without treatment, UARS can become sleep apnea.

What Causes UARS?

UARS happens when:

  • Loose or relaxed fatty tissue in the throat collapses
  • Airways become narrowed

It can also happen if your tongue falls to the back of your throat and blocks it.

These problems make it harder to breathe, which may cause heavy, labored breathing. When you have trouble breathing, your brain knows that it needs to wake up from deep sleep.

How Is UARS Diagnosed?

If you have symptoms of UARS, your doctor will probably have you do a polysomnogram, or sleep study.

During this test, devices record your:

This exam gives your doctor information about whether your sleep patterns are disrupted, and how much.

What Is the Treatment for UARS?

It’s best to start treatment for UARS as soon as it’s diagnosed.

Your treatment plan may involve:

  • Positive airway pressure (PAP). With therapies like continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), you wear a special mask while you sleep. A machine gently blows air into your upper airway through a tube that connects to the mask. The air pressure helps keep your airway open and allows for regular breathing.
  • Oral appliances. Certain devices that you wear while you sleep can also prevent a collapse in the soft tissue of your airway. These appliances are good alternatives if you can’t tolerate a PAP device.
  • Surgery. Some people with UARS may need surgery. Your doctor can make your airway larger to lower the chances that it will collapse while you sleep.

Can You Prevent UARS?

Although there’s no surefire way to prevent UARS, there are some things you can do to help improve your sleep.

For instance, you may notice that your symptoms go away when you sleep on your side instead of your back.

As with sleep apnea, shedding extra pounds might relieve symptoms of UARS.

You may want to avoid alcohol and sedative medicines. They can relax your throat muscles so your airway is more likely to collapse.

Complications of UARS

Without treatment, UARS can hurt your quality of life.

Over time, you may have complications such as depression, insomnia, or fatigue.

Untreated UARS can also lead to high blood pressure and heart problems.

What’s the Outlook for UARS?

If you get treatment early enough, you may be able to reverse it.

To avoid getting sleep apnea or any of the complications that go along with UARS, tell your doctor if you notice any type of sleep or breathing issues.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Stanford Health Care: “Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome (UARS): Overview, Symptoms, Treatments.”

American Sleep Apnea Association: “Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome.”

American Sleep Association: “Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome.”

Sleep Science: “Treatment of upper airway resistance syndrome in adults: Where do we stand?”

Mayo Clinic: “Polysomnography (sleep study).”

StatPearls: “Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome.”

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