Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea refers to a sleep disorder in which breathing stops and starts repeatedly. The common form, Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) may occur when the upper airway is transiently blocked during sleep resulting in stoppage of airflow for at least ten seconds.  Despite breathing efforts, the muscles at the back of the throat fail to keep the airway open causing distorted sleep and reduced level of oxygen saturation in the blood, a combination which can result in several complications.

Do you have sleep apnea?

A large tongue pressed against the back of the throat can block the airway. One strong indicator of sleep apnea is chronic snoring, and a health professional should evaluate it. When the oxygen supply to the brain reduces, such individuals partially awaken, the obstruction clears, and the airflow resumes with a loud gasp. 

Heredity has also been suggested to be a factor for OSA as it seems to run in some families.

Individuals potentially suffer from sleeplessness and other symptoms like depression, irritability, loss of concentration, learning, mood, and memory difficulties, daytime drowsiness while working or driving as well as sexual dysfunction. Untreated OSA can be complicated by hypertension, heart failure, cardiac arrhythmia, or stroke.

Less severe obstruction is called Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome (UARS). However, individuals suffer most of the same symptoms.


Step one involves the recognition of the symptoms and seeking appropriate help. Our Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons are prepared to consult with you and to offer treatment options.

 A detailed history is required which includes a record of your sleep, level of fatigue throughout the day, and other symptoms you might be having. Anatomic relationships in the maxillofacial region are assessed. A nasopharyngeal exam or cephalometric analysis may be done to ascertain the level of obstruction. To diagnose and confirm the severity of cardiovascular compromise, a sleep study may be recommended to monitor you overnight; it will monitor functions during sleep including heart rate, sleep state, eye movement, respiratory effort, airflow, muscle activity, and blood oxygen levels.

Treatment Options for Sleep Apnea

Continuous positive airway pressure device (CPAP) is the treatment choice.  The mask fits over the nose and delivers pressurized oxygen into the airway to help keep it open, limiting obstruction during sleep.

In cases where surgery may be required, an uvulo-palato-pharyngoplasty (UPPP) or laser-assisted uvulo-palatoplasty (LAUPP), may be performed. A radio-frequency probe may also be utilized under light IV sedation to tighten the soft palate. In more complex cases, orthognathic surgery under general anesthesia may be done. In these cases, the bones of the upper and lower jaw are repositioned so as to increase the size of the airway for passage.

Lifestyle modifications are also useful in mitigating the symptoms of sleep apnea. Individuals are advised to lose weight if overweight, avoid alcohol, quit smoking, and to sleep on their sides not back. 

OSA is a serious condition that needs careful attention and treatment.