Obstructive Sleep Apnea
What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
Obstructive sleep apnea is a common condition that involves breathing problems during sleep, as the throat muscles relax and block the airway. Individuals that suffer from sleep apnea experience moments during their sleep in which they are not breathing. This can occur up to hundreds of times, sometimes for a minute or longer, posing great danger for that individual. With normal breathing, air enters the lungs, bypassing the nose and flexible structures such as the soft palate, uvula and tongue. During awake periods, the muscles hold the airway open, allowing air to flow easily. When asleep, although these muscles do relax, they are still functioning and allowing air to pass. For sleep apnea patients, this airway is blocked, causing a decrease in oxygen levels in both the blood and brain.
Common Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
Patients with obstructive sleep apnea often experience the following:
- Loud snoring
- Silent pauses in breathing
- Choking or gasping sounds
- Daytime sleepiness
- Morning headaches
- Waking up with a sore throat
This condition can affect anyone, but is most common in older adults.
Causes Of Sleep Apnea
- Cardiovascular problems
- Throat and tongue muscles more relaxed than normal
Diagnosis of Sleep Apnea
Your doctor may be able to diagnose obstructive sleep apnea after an evaluation of your symptoms. Additional testing may be needed in some cases, which may include:
- Nocturnal polysomnography
- Portable cardiorespiratory testing
These tests are performed while the patient is asleep to help detect any abnormal behaviors that may lead to sleep apnea.
Once the condition has been diagnosed, there are several treatment options available to manage symptoms and allow patients to enjoy uninterrupted sleep. While there are some nonsurgical treatments available, many patients with sleep apnea need surgery to remove excess tissue from the nose or throat in order to unblock the airways and promote healthy breathing.
Surgery for obstructive sleep apnea may include
Surgical removal of tissue – this is performed through uvulopalatopharyngoplasty, a procedure that removes tissue from the throat as well as the tonsils and adenoids.
Jaw correction – the upper and lower parts of the jaw are moved forward during this procedure to create a larger space behind the tongue and soft palate.
Implants – implants are placed during the Pillar procedure, which places three small rods in the soft palate to support the tissue there and prevent the airway from collapsing during sleep.
Surgical opening in the neck – this procedure is for severe cases of sleep apnea and involve inserting a metal or plastic tube through an opening in the neck to assist with breathing during sleep.