If you wake up regularly during the night with shortness of breath, have intermittent cessation of breathing while you’re asleep (observed by someone else) and are plagued by loud snoring and extreme sleepiness during the day, obstructive sleep apnea could be to blame. While it’s most prevalent among older adults, the obese and men, the disorder can strike anyone, including children.
Obstructive sleep apnea is a serious condition that can even be life threatening and many people are never diagnosed. It occurs when the upper airway collapses partially or completely, which reduces or stops airflow. The brain senses that you’re not able to breathe and you briefly awaken, which you usually don’t remember, so that the airway can reopen. This cycle can occur more than 30 times in an hour in some cases. The airway collapse is due to a decrease in tone in the muscles in the back of the throat that support the soft palate (the soft, flexible area towards the back of the roof of the mouth), the uvula, the tongue, the side walls of the throat and the tonsils. Congenital abnormalities of the airway could also be a factor.
Obstructive sleep apnea can cause a host of symptoms including the hallmark loud snoring mixed with periods of silence. The poor quality of sleep associated with it often leads to depression, irritability, memory loss, attention problems that can affect job and school performance, insomnia, excessive daytime sleepiness, loss of libido, dry mouth, a sore throat and morning headaches. Obstructive sleep apnea has also been linked to hypertension, heart attack, diabetes and stroke. Thankfully, once you’ve been properly diagnosed, treatment options do exist.
of Sleep Apnea Treatment
Improves sleep quality, which boosts alertness, attention, memory, mood and energy levels
Opens airway and reduces snoring
Decreases risks of long term health effects including changes in metabolism, high blood pressure and heart disease
If you’re diagnosed with sleep apnea, there are several treatment options. If you have a mild case, Dr. Jung may recommend lifestyle changes like weight loss, smoking cessation and avoiding alcohol before bed. For moderate obstructive sleep apnea, a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) device is often indicated, which applies constant, low positive air pressure through a mask. An oral appliance to move the lower jaw forward and open the airway may be beneficial too.
If you have a severe case of sleep apnea or less invasive options have failed, surgery might be necessary. Once in a while, nasal surgery or taking out the tonsils or adenoids, which are glands in the roof of the mouth, can do the trick. There are also procedures (uvulopalatopharyngoplasty and laser-assisted uvulopalatoplasty in doctor-speak) that involve removing tissue from the top of your throat and back of your mouth to open the airway. Though these typically help with snoring and can improve symptoms, they aren’t always a reliable treatment for sleep apnea and are only used if your condition involves the soft palate.
If obstructive sleep apnea is at the level of the base of the tongue, jaw repositioning, technically known as maxillomandibular advancement, is the most effective treatment. Dr. Jung performs CT-guided surgery under general anesthesia. The jaw is moved forward, which gets rid of the obstruction by enlarging the space behind the tongue and soft palate. Both the upper and lower jaw are addressed so your bite isn’t affected.
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Dr. Jung will give you specific instructions to follow before and after your procedure to ensure your treatment is safe and successful. The directions will vary depending on the approach. If you’ll be undergoing jaw surgery, you will likely have to stay in the hospital for one to three days and come in for regular appointments for up to two months after the procedure so Dr. Jung can monitor your healing. Most patients are able to return to work in two to four weeks and can resume normal chewing after four weeks.