People with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) have disrupted sleep and low blood oxygen levels. When obstructive sleep apnea occurs, there are a few areas along the airway that may become obstructed including the tongue getting 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 sleeper 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 cardiovascular problems. Additionally, these individuals suffer from excessive daytime sleepiness, depression, and loss of concentration among other signs and symptoms as well. Obstructive sleep apnea can have significant medical consequences including: diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
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.
Sleep Apnea Treatment
The first step in treatment for sleep apnea 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 cephalometic (skull x-ray) analysis, the doctors can ascertain the level of obstruction. Sometimes a naso-pharyngeal exam is done with a flexible fiber-optic camera. This can be performed by and ENT or a sleep doctor. To confirm the amount of cardiovascular compromise and decreased oxygenation levels, a sleep study may be recommended to monitor an individual overnight.
Treatment Options for Sleep Apnea
There are several treatment options available. An initial treatment may consist of using a CPAP machine that delivers pressurized oxygen through a nasal mask to limit obstruction at night. A lot of people are not aware of a non surgical option known as an oral sleep appliance or device. These devices are worn at night, advance the lower jaw thereby opening the airway and allowing proper airflow. They can prove to be very effective in cases of mild to moderate sleep apnea. Dr. Johnson and staff are happy to evaluate you and fabricate such a device if you qualify. We use a high quality, reliable and sturdy Somnomed device.
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 under light IV sedation in the 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 is done in the hospital under general anesthesia and requires a one to two day overnight stay in the hospital.
OSA is a very serious condition that needs careful attention and treatment. Most major medical plans offer coverage for diagnosis and treatment.