Obstructive sleep apnea is a serious and even life-threatening condition that causes low blood oxygen levels. Sleep apnea is generally defined as the presence of more than 30 apneas during a seven-hour period of sleep. During sleep, large tonsils, a large tongue, or excess tissues can obstruct the upper airway. The nasal passages, the position of the jaw, and the airway muscles may also contribute to sleep apnea. When the airflow is blocked, the oxygen levels in the brain become low and the cessation of breathing or “apnea,” wakes the person up so they are able to restart the breathing process. The sleeper usually wakes up with a loud gasp and returns to sleep.
The risks of untreated sleep apnea include heart attack, stroke, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, heart disease, decreased libido, and drowsiness.
Repeated cycles of decreased oxygenation lead to very serious cardiovascular problems. Additionally, these individuals suffer from excessive daytime sleepiness, depression and loss of concentration.
Depending on the cause and severity of your sleep apnea, your oral surgeon will decide which treatment is best for you. This can range from behavior modification to oral appliances such as an air pressure device. Surgery may be an option for some patients, but it is important to keep in mind that it is not successful for all patients.
An initial treatment may consist of using a nasal CPAP machine that delivers pressurized oxygen through a nasal mask to limit obstruction at night. One surgical option is an uvulo-palato-pharyngo-plasty (UPPP), which is performed in the back of the soft palate and throat. In more complex cases, the bones of the upper and lower jaw may be repositioned to increase the size of the airway. This is considered orthognathic surgery and is usually performed in the hospital under general anesthesia.