Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), or simply sleep apnea, is a disorder in which an individual stops breathing for a few seconds or even a minute during sleep. At times, the frequency of obstruction in breathing may occur more than 100 times during a night. Majority of the patients affected by this condition are above 35 years of age. Also, men are at a higher risk of developing this sleep-disorder than women. It is estimated that about 20 million Americans suffer from this syndrome.
Causes and Symptoms
As the name indicates, this condition is caused due to obstruction of the airways. The major reasons for the occurrence of this condition remain unclear till now. However, in most cases, the obstruction site is observed to be the soft palate. Medical researchers opine that during sleep, the muscles of the soft palate relax, which results in extension beyond a limit, causing airway blockage.
The symptoms of OSA generally include loud snoring, sleep disturbance, and restless sleep. Treatment is necessary in order to prevent complications like congestive heart failure. Some of the treatment options include the use of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) masks, oral appliances, and surgery.
Surgery is recommended in the treatment of severe cases, when other treatment options are not helpful. The main objective of the surgery is to open airways for smooth breathing. In other terms, the main airway is altered in order to minimize the occurrence of airway obstructions. Depending upon the approach, surgical therapy can be of different types.
Palatal Surgical Therapy
In case the causal factor of this condition is a disorder in the soft palate, then the most effective treatment is palatal surgery. It is a minimally invasive technique that involves the removal of a part of the uvula and soft palate. This procedure is claimed to be effective in reducing snoring and other sleep-disordered breathing. However, this method is not effective when the airway obstruction occurs beyond the soft palate.
Jaw Surgical Therapy
Another type surgery is the jaw surgery. This method is performed on individuals having a maxillomandibular jaw structure that aggravates airway obstruction. Prior to the procedure, imaging tests of the jaw, skull, and airways are performed. With the help of these images, the surgeon corrects the position of the jaw. In a report published on OSA, this surgery is said to be effective for the treatment of more than 85% patients with sleep-disordered breathing.
For patients with life-threatening conditions, tracheotomy might be considered for treatment of this condition. In this surgery, a small flexible tube is inserted in the neck by making a small incision. While sleeping, this tube serves as a breathing aid for the exchange of gases, by bypassing the blocked airways. There are several long-term complications of tracheotomy though, some of which include speech problems and lung infections. Hence, one should always weigh the pros and cons of tracheotomy, before opting for it.
For effective management of symptoms and for long-term treatment, in addition to OSA surgery, the physician may recommend alternative treatments such as controlling weight, breathing exercises, modification of sleeping position, and adopting healthy lifestyle changes.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only and does not in any way attempt to replace the advice offered by an expert on the subject.