Sleep apnea is when someone involuntarily does not breath during sleep. It can be either central or obstructive. Central apnea, which is less common, is when the brain forgets to tell the body to breath. Obstructive apnea occurs when the muscles or soft tissue in the throat prevents the normal movement of air. The signs of obstructive sleep apnea include severe snoring, breath holding, fatigue, and morning headache.
Sleep apnea must be diagnosed by a sleep study. A sleep study measures the heart rate, breathing patterns, and brain waves of the patient while they sleep. It is absolutely essential that this study be done on anyone suspected of having sleep apnea.
The treatments for sleep apnea include weight loss, avoidence of sleep depressants (alcohol, sleeping pills, etc), CPAP ( a mask used at night to keep the airway open), dental repositioning devices, and surgery.
During normal breathing, air passes through the throat on its way to the lungs. The air travels past the soft palate, uvula, tonsils, and tongue. When a person is awake, the muscles in the back of the throat tighten to hold these structures in place preventing them from collapsing into the airway. During sleep, these structures can fall into the airway causing snoring and obstructive sleep apnea. Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty with or without tonsillectomy are surgical procedures designed to circumvent this sleep releated collapse of these structures. The new Laser assisted uvulopalatoplasty (LAUP) is a laser surgical procedure designed to sequentially trim and shorten the palate preventing or reducing snoring. Its effect on sleep apnea is unproven.