Sleep Disorders

 S N O R I N G    &   S L E E P   A P N E A    

Sleep-disordered breathing describes a group of abnormal breathing patterns experienced during sleep, which may manifest as light or heavy snoring, pauses in breathing (sleep apnea) or complete airway collapse. People with obstructive sleep apnea syndrome stop breathing while they sleep, sometimes hundreds of times per night and sometimes for a minute or longer each time. The soft tissue at the back of the throat closes, blocking (obstructing) the person’s airway.

A common warning sign of obstructive sleep apnea is snoring (especially snoring interspersed with gasps or lack of breathing), although the two are not always related. Because the brain and major organs are deprived of essential oxygen when breathing is disrupted, if left untreated sleep apnea can result in high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, stroke, memory problems, weight gain, impotency, headaches, and daytime fatigue leading to job impairment and motor vehicle crashes.



 T R E A T M E N T    

There are many treatments available for sleep apnea and other sleep-disordered breathing problems. Snoring independent of sleep apnea can be lessened with changes in diet and weight loss and reduction of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs; if this fails, surgery of the soft palate may be elected. Traditionally, in the past this involved a procedure called uvulopalatopharyngoplasty, which removes the tonsils, uvula and part of the soft palate to open the airway. Now, more advanced procedures such as Laser Assisted Uvula Palatoplasty (LAUP) and somnoplasty (radiofrequency ablation) are performed to stiffen the soft palate without the need for general anesthesia.

Before surgery is attempted, patients suffering from sleep apnea are given a breathing mask to wear at night that uses Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP), wherein air is forced past the obstruction for clear breathing. If this fails to correct the problem or if the patient is too uncomfortable to continue, surgical options may be considered, such as uvulopalatopharyngoplasty or a procedure using radiofrequency energy that shrinks the base of the tongue and the soft palate.

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David M. Alessi, MD, FACS  

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