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Sleep Medicine

silencing sleep apnea

Silencing Sleep Apnea


For the 18 million Americans living with sleep apnea, the condition can prevent restful sleep and increase risks for serious health concerns.

Does your partner or spouse complain about your noisy sleep habits? If so, you may have obstructive sleep apnea, a serious condition that can impact daily life. Sleep apnea occurs when your throat closes during sleep, cutting off air supply and causing you to snore loudly or gasp for air during the night.

Goodbye, Good Night's Sleep
Traditionally, obstructive sleep apnea is treated using a type of breathing therapy known as continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). CPAP utilizes a breathing mask that increases air pressure to prevent the throat from closing. However, breathing masks may cause facial discomfort and feelings of claustrophobia. Wearing a breathing mask can also discourage intimacy with a partner.

"For some people, CPAP masks make it more difficult to fall asleep," says Joseph Cillo, Jr., DMD, oral and maxillofacial surgeon at Allegheny General Hospital. "Depending on the severity of sleep apnea and other factors, these patients may be good candidates for surgery."

Taking the Surgical Route
Oral and maxillofacial surgery (OMFS) is an option for people who have moderate to severe sleep apnea, are not morbidly obese and have not benefited from CPAP. The procedure involves pulling the floor of the tongue forward and away from the back of the throat through a small incision in the jaw. This surgery takes about one hour to perform, and patients can return home the next day. At AGH, more than 90 percent of patients experience relief from sleep apnea following this procedure.

Patients with severe sleep apnea may require a more advanced form of the surgery that pulls both the lower and upper jawbones forward slightly. This form of OMFS takes longer to perform and may require a longer hospitalization. More than 80 percent of patients at AGH experience relief following this form of OMFS.

A sleep study and physical examination are required to determine whether or not you are eligible for OMFS.

"We've been performing OMFS at Allegheny General Hospital for more than 15 years," Dr. Cillo says. "If sleep apnea is negatively affecting your quality of life, ask your primary care physician if surgery is an option for you."

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