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Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome (UARS)

Last updated: January 7, 2019

What Does Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome (UARS) Mean?

Upper airway resistance syndrome (UARS) is a sleep disorder characterized by a narrowing of the upper airway during sleep. UARS occurs when the muscles of the airway relax and partially collapse while a person is sleeping. The condition can be particularly problematic for individuals whose air passages are already narrow or restricted due to a physical condition or illness.

A person with UARS will experience what is called sleep-disordered breathing as he or she attempts to compensate for the loss of air volume caused by the narrow airway. The most notable symptoms of UARS are daytime sleepiness and excessive fatigue. Snoring, insomnia, or morning headaches may also be signs that a person has UARS.

Treatment for UARS may include the use of a positive air pressure device such as a CPAP or APAP to maintain an open airway during sleep. A physician may also recommend behavioral changes or oral appliances to treat the condition.

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WorkplaceTesting Explains Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome (UARS)

Upper airway resistance syndrome (UARS) is similar to and sometimes misdiagnosed as obstructive sleep apnea. However, during sleep apnea, a person's airway is completely closed. When a sleep apnea event occurs, the individual stops breathing completely for a short period. During UARS, breathing continues but requires greater effort.

When a person experiences the narrowing of an already limited airway due to muscle relaxation, the small remaining opening does not permit sufficient air to pass through the airway with each breath. This decreased airflow causes the resistance for which UARS is named. As the still sleeping person attempts to inhale air through the narrowed passageway, his or her breathing may become labored. The person may also not be able to sleep deeply due to repeated sleep interruptions. Usually the individual is not aware of these sleep disturbances.

A person with UARS will often experience brain wave arousals called respiratory effort-related arousals (RERAs). Thus, while the individual appears to have slept through the night, he or she has not experience the deep sleep needed. A full sleep study that include tracking of the person's brain waves overnight is often used to diagnose UARS.

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