Differences Between UARS vs OSA

Differences Between UARS vs OSA

Breathing and healthy sleep are closely connected. Sleep disorders that interrupt normal breathing patterns while you sleep can have a dramatic impact on your personal health. Identifying the specific sleep disorder that is affecting you is important to determine the best treatment. Doctors will ask questions about symptoms and may require sleep tests to get an accurate diagnosis. Many patients may have obstructive sleep apnea or OSA which is causing sleep deprivation. Other patients may have upper airway resistance syndrome or UARS. Knowing the difference and what sleep breathing problems may be affecting you is the first step to successful diagnosis and treatment.

What is UARS?

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.

Defining the difference between UARS and OSA can be challenging for sleep doctors as they are so similar. A precise diagnosis ensures the best treatment options.

What is OSA?

Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the muscles in the back of your throat relax too much to allow normal breathing. These muscles support structures including the back of the roof of your mouth (soft palate), the triangular piece of tissue hanging from the soft palate (uvula), the tonsils and the tongue.

When the muscles relax, your airway narrows or closes as you breathe in, hampering your breathing for 10 seconds or longer. This can lower the level of oxygen in your blood and cause a buildup of carbon dioxide.

Your brain senses this impaired breathing and briefly rouses you from sleep so that you can reopen your airway. This awakening is usually so brief that you don't remember it.

Symptoms Of UARS and OSA

While the two respiratory sleep conditions are different, they do have similar symptoms, which makes it even harder for sleep doctors to diagnosis. Most sleep doctors will begin by investigating for remarkable symptoms.

Symptoms for both UARs and OSA include:

  • Loud snoring, often waking a sleep partner or forcing them to sleep in another room
  • Chronic daytime drowsiness, which can impair daily activities including concentration and memory
  • Morning headaches and dry mouth that occur on a regular basis
  • Long-term problems with mood, irritability, and depression, due to sleep loss
  • Difficulty sleeping, either due to gasping for air at night or restlessness and tossing and turning

Risk Factors of UARS and OSA

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.

Obstructive sleep apnea is related to many more long-term health conditions as a result of apneas and hypopneas due to the decrease in blood pressure during apnea/hypopnea events, which can lead to increased risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, heart arrhythmias, stroke, and heart failure.

Diagnosis of UARS and OSA

Both UARs and OSA can be evaluated using a sleep study. During this test, devices record your:

  • Brain waves
  • Blood oxygen levels
  • Heart rate
  • Breathing
  • Eye and leg movements

This exam gives your doctor information about whether your sleep patterns are disrupted, and how much. The exam will also help the doctor determine if you have UARS or OSA. The differences in severity of symptoms are usually an indicator of one sleep disorder or the other.

While both sleep disorders are similar, the treatments may vary. UARS may only require some lifestyle changes to manage. OSA may require more extensive treatment from CPAP therapy to surgery, depending on the severity.

Treatments For UARS and OSA 

UARS, if mild, may only require changes in habits such as reducing alcohol consumption, quitting smoking, avoiding caffeine near bedtime, or changing sleeping positions. In more severe cases, treatment will be similar to that of OSA. Treatments may include:

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.


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.

Find the Right CPAP Machine

If the treatment requires CPAP, then you will need a CPAP machine. Choosing a machine that is right for you means understanding your prescribed pressure setting and how it relates to the machine you select.

Your CPAP setting can take time to get used to. If you find that CPAP is difficult, you may try a BiPAP machine or auto CPAP. These devices are useful to new patients not accustomed to CPAP therapy. BIPAP regulates air pressure for both inhalation and exhalation, making breathing with a CPAP machine more comfortable. Auto CPAP machines automatically adjust pressure settings so that you can start with a low setting falling asleep, and the machine will elevate to a higher prescribed setting once you are fast asleep.

Where Can You Buy A CPAP Machine?

You can shop for a CPAP machine online. Online shopping is easier and more efficient and allows you to see more machine options without traveling from store to store. When you visit The CPAP Shop online you will find some of the best CPAP machines available to CPAP patients. Our knowledgeable staff is always ready to help you select a machine based on your prescription and help you find the essential accessories from masks to hoses to make your CPAP therapy comfortable. Give us a call at 866-414-9700.

Chris Vasta

Chris Vasta is the president of The CPAP Shop and an expert in sleep and respiratory therapy. He often provides insights on product design and functionality on various manufacturers’ prototypes and is frequently tapped to provide reviews on new releases.