Positive Outlook for Sleep Apnea Surgery

Findings from a recent Flinders University study have found that an airway surgery can substantially reduce sleep disruptions and improve the lives of patients who suffer from sleep apnea.

Professor Doug McEvoy and his team from the Adelaide Institute of Sleep Health, received a Flinders Foundation Health Seed Grant in 2019 thanks to your generous support of research at Flinders.

They closely studied the long-term response of 29 patients who underwent ‘multi-level upper airway surgery’ following other failed treatments including wearing jaw positioning dental splints and using CPAP - a machine that sends a steady flow of oxygen into the nose and mouth during sleep to keep airways open and help with breathing.

The reconstructive surgery involved two levels of the airway at the back of the throat.

At the ‘upper-level’ a plastic surgery technique was used to reposition and tighten the soft palate to improve airflow behind the soft palate when the patient is sleeping. While at the ‘lower level’ an energy field is delivered through a thin ‘wand’ which is placed several times into the back part of the tongue to dissolve a very small amount of surrounding tissue in this area to improve airflow behind the tongue when the patient is asleep.

“For six months following the surgery, we measured the patients’ overall level of satisfaction with the surgery, their level of daytime sleepiness and how sleepiness impacted their lives in terms of family and work activities,” Prof McEvoy explained.

“We also asked questions of partners of patients to gauge the intensity of their partner’s snoring.

“The improvements that were observed in all these factors were found to have been maintained long-term...  information also showed a substantial reduction of 60 per cent in the frequency of sleep apneas.”

Patients diagnosed with sleep apnea tend to have disrupted sleep at night, be excessively sleepy in the daytime, lack concentration and have depressed mood.

Snoring is also often a cause of relationship avoidance, disharmony or breakdown, and sleep apnea is a risk factor for high blood pressure, atrial fibrillation and other cardiovascular problems such as stroke and heart attacks.

Prof McEvoy said results of the study provided good evidence that positive results of the surgery are likely to be maintained over the long term, but it was unlikely to become a ‘first-line’ treatment.

“At this stage, because of the small but finite risk of any surgery of this type and the very good, yet still partial treatment response, this surgical treatment for sleep apnea is likely to remain as an option for patients who have failed or refuse conventional therapy such as CPAP.”

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