Four out of ten adults snore occasionally, while a quarter of us snore every night. Snoring may be loud, embarrassing and inconvenient, and it can also be a hallmark of obstructive sleep apnea or OSA, a medical condition that can lead to serious health consequences. Patients may also have a less-severe condition called upper airway resistance syndrome (UARS), in which partial obstruction occurs. These and other related conditions are referred to as “sleep-disordered breathing.” In these conditions, breathing becomes either partially or completely blocked during sleep. The accompanying loss of oxygen is the source of a number of serious health consequences that require diagnosis and treatment.
How is Sleep Apnea Caused?
Most simply, during sleep the throat relaxes. In apnea, the tongue is sucked against the back of the throat, blocking the flow of air to the lungs. Oxygen levels drop. When the levels become sufficiently low, the brain signals for more oxygen and a sleeper will partially wake, prompted to move the jaw and tongue. Usually, sleepers make a loud gasp at this point, when the body struggles for more air. This produces the snoring, gasping effect of obstructive sleep apnea.
How Does Sleep Apnea Harm Physical Health?
The Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School reports that evidence is increasing that untreated sleep apnea can have wide-ranging negative health effects. Physical health problems that are associated with sleep apnea include hypertension or high blood pressure, heart disease and heart failure, stroke and diabetes. These problems occur because sleep apnea increases blood pressure, raises the heart rate, and activates the part of the nervous system that regulates heart performance. Harvard Sleep Medicine physicians also report that sleep apnea can raise blood chemicals that cause an increase in inflammation and blood sugar.
Does Sleep Apnea Have Other Negative Health Impacts?
Yes, in addition to being associated with hypertension, stroke, heart disease and diabetes, sleep apnea is associated with drowsiness during the day, chronic tiredness, difficulty concentrating, and depression. This is understandable, as sleep apnea reduces the levels of oxygen in the brain, not only interfering with normal, restful sleep but also brain functioning and healthy body processes.
Who can be affected by Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is most-often associated with overweight or obesity, which is the reason many physicians recommend weight loss to improve the condition. Adults with sleep apnea may have physical characteristics in their jaw, soft palate and throat which contribute to the problem. However, children may also be affected. More than twice as many children are obese or overweight today than twenty years go. In addition, enlarged tonsils and adenoids may contribute to the condition, even if a child is not overweight.
Non-Surgical Treatment Options
Medical professionals may recommend a number of ways to treat sleep apnea, all of which are designed to improve breathing. Depending on individual circumstances, lifestyle changes may be advised, such as losing weight. Other non-surgical options to treat sleep apnea include nasal dilators, oral appliances to reposition the jaw during sleep, and Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machines.
Surgical Ways to Treat Sleep Apnea
There are a number of ways to surgically treat sleep apnea. Depending upon the initial cause or causes of the condition and your unique health needs, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon will be able to provide consultation and recommendation for a surgical treatment which will have the greatest chance of long-term, successful cessation of the problem.
Common Surgical Treatments
The most common surgery to treat sleep apnea is uvulo-palato-pharyngo-plasty or UPPP. Most often used when excess tissue is causing the obstruction of air during sleep, UPPP involves the removal of excess tissue in the throat which widens the airway. A very similar procedure may be performed with the help of a surgical laser, referred to as laser assisted uvulo-palato-plasty (LAUPP). Tissue that is removed can include the finger-shaped tissue that hangs in the back of the throat or uvula, or removal and modification of part of the roof of the mouth (soft palate). Other surgeries, most often used in children include tonsillectomy (tonsil removal) or adenoidectomy (adenoid removal). Some apnea may be caused by an enlarged tongue. Removal of a small portion of the tongue is called uvulo-palato-pharyngo-glosso-plasty.
Other Surgical Treatments
Other circumstances may dictate double jaw surgery or implants in the palate to improve the width of the airway and reduce obstructions. While UPPP and LAUPP are generally same-day office procedures performed under light sedation in the surgeon’s office, jaw surgery is a hospital procedure, requiring full anesthesia and a one or two-day hospital stay.
Sleep Apnea can be Treated Well with Surgery
Learn how surgery could be the best treatment for sleep apnea by contacting Dr. Majid Jamali. His oral & maxillofacial office will provide consultation and recommendations for patients with sleep apnea in Staten Island, Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Westchester & the Bronx.