Surgical Treatment Options For Sleep Apnea

by: Rudy Watkins

According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, sleep apnea affects over ten million Americans. It occurs when someone regularly has their breathing disrupted while sleeping either because of a physical obstruction (obstructive apnea) or because the brain doesn't send a signal to breathe (central), or a combination of the two.

Apnea can occur in all age groups, and can lead to other health problems including cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and impaired memory. While some people will use prescribed CPAP machines, many people do not want to wear a mask while they sleep or they have apnea that can be addressed through surgery.

When someone thinks they may have sleep apnea, usually a sleep study is arranged. A sleep study is where the patient comes to the sleep lab at night and they sleep is monitored by machines that identify apnea episodes. Obstructive apnea can be treated through surgery, while there is currently no surgery that is effective in preventing central apnea.

Apnea in children often occurs when they have swollen tonsils, a tonsillectomy to remove the swollen tonsils can end the apnea as well as preventing further tonsil problems. Other medical conditions can cause physical blockages that are easily treated through surgery including swollen adenoids which can be removed through an adenoidectomy.

When sleep apnea is related to obesity, bariatric surgery is recommended, as it is a type of surgery that helps patients lose weight (which reduces apnea). The most common surgery for sleep apnea is called uvulopalatopharyoplasty (UPPP), UPPP widens the airway by removing excess throat tissue. Although there is no clear research supporting or disproving the effectiveness of UPPP, UPPP has been shown to stop snoring and is the most popular form of surgical treatment for sleep apnea today.

Most physicians prefer to do sleep studies after surgery, to see how well the surgery addressed the apnea or if further surgery or other treatment may be required to address apnea. For example, if someone seems to have obstructive apnea and has UPPP done, then continues having apnea it is possible their apnea is mixed and that some of their apnea may be caused by the brain not signalling properly. One surgery to widen the airways may reveal that there are other physical blockages from soft tissue to bone that maybe impeding breathing. For those with apnea, the idea that more than one surgery may be necessary can be daunting.

Sleep apnea can be a difficult medical condition to deal with, no one likes being without a good night's sleep. Knowing that there are surgeries out there that can be effective can unburden the most weary apnea sufferer. Today, there are limits to what type of apnea can be treated effectively through surgery, but with research and more sleep study research more treatment options will become available.

There is no perfect treatment to any medical condition, when considering treatment options it is important to look at how the treatment matches the individual. Knowing many people who suffer from apnea, almost all of them have sleep apnea machines and few of them use them; surgery could be a more effective option for many people who dislike using machines every night to help them breathe.

Rudy Watkins writes about sleep apnea surgery and other sleep related topics at http://www.apneaguide.com

View All Articles