How are obstructive sleep apnea patients treated now?

Traditional therapy for obstructive sleep apnea includes nightly use of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). During sleep, CPAP patients wear a face mask connected to a pump that forces air into the nasal passages at pressures high enough to overcome obstructions in the airway and stimulate normal breathing. CPAP is effective, but many patients find the mask uncomfortable, claustrophobic or embarrassing. CPAP patients often suffer from side effects related to forced air delivery including nasal congestion, sore eyes, headaches and abdominal bloating, and about half of CPAP patients discontinue treatment. Since CPAP is not a cure and must be used every night for life, non-compliant patients experience a full return of obstructive sleep apnea and related symptoms.

Surgical methods for treating obstructive sleep apnea include uvulopalatopharyngeoplasty (UPPP), the surgical resection of the uvula, part of the soft palate, tonsils and possibly other excess tissue in the throat. UPPP is an invasive procedure that typically requires general anesthesia and an overnight hospital stay, and it does not address obstructions at the base of tongue. Other surgical methods for treating obstructive sleep apnea are invasive and involve reducing the size of the tongue through surgical resection, moving the tongue or the jaw forward, or bypassing the obstruction through a tracheostomy. A tracheostomy, or the opening of a collateral airway through the neck, is typically reserved for the most severe cases of obstructive sleep apnea, when other interventions are either ineffective or unacceptable. These treatments are invasive and expensive, may require general anesthesia and hospitalization, and result in a lengthy, painful recovery period.