People with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) have disrupted sleep and low blood oxygen levels. When obstructive sleep apnea occurs, the tongue is sucked against the back of the throat. This blocks the upper airway and airflow stops. When the oxygen level in the brain becomes low enough, the patient partially awakens, the obstruction in the throat clears, and the flow of air starts again, usually with a loud gasp.
Repeated cycles of decreased oxygenation lead to very serious health problems, including cardiovascular issues. Additionally, these individuals suffer from excessive daytime sleepiness, depression, and loss of concentration.
Some patients have obstructions that are less severe called Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome (UARS). In either case, the individuals suffer many of the same symptoms.
The first step in treatment resides in recognition of the symptoms and seeking appropriate consultation. Oral and maxillofacial surgeons offer consultation and treatment options.
In addition to a detailed history, the doctors will assess the anatomic relationships in the maxillofacial region. With 3-D imaging analysis, the doctors can ascertain the level of obstruction. Sometimes a naso-pharyngeal exam is done with a flexible fiber-optic camera. To confirm the amount of cardiovascular compromise and decreased oxygenation levels, a sleep study may be recommended to monitor an individual overnight.
There are several treatment options available. An initial treatment may consist of using a CPAP machine that delivers pressurized oxygen through a mask to limit obstruction at night. One of the surgical options is an uvulo-palato-pharyngo-plasty (UPPP), which is performed in the back of the soft palate and throat. A similar procedure is sometimes done with the assistance of a laser and is called a laser assisted uvulo-palato-plasty (LAUPP). In other cases, a radio-frequency probe is utilized to tighten the soft palate. These procedures are usually performed by an otolaryngologist under light IV sedation in their office.
In more complex cases, the bones of the upper and lower jaw may be repositioned to increase the size of the airway (orthognathic surgery). This procedure may be done in our office under general anesthesia, depending on your health, or in a hospital (also under general anesthesia), which may require a one to two day overnight stay.
OSA is a very serious condition that needs careful attention and treatment. Most major medical plans offer coverage for diagnosis and treatment.