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.
Sleep apnea is characterized by loud snoring and disturbed or interrupted sleep patterns. Sleep apnea can have serious consequences including cardiac problems. Patients will frequently awaken in the morning with a headache. If they become sleep deprived they may feel sleepy all day, and may fall asleep while driving in the car. Sleep apnea is diagnosed by a sleep study. During the sleep study, the patient’s breathing patterns, heart rhythm and brain waves are monitored. If it is found that sleep apnea is present, most doctors recommend the use of CPAP. CPAP is a breathing device worn during sleep to help keep the airway open. In some situations, surgery is recommended. The uvulopalatopharyngoplasty, with or without tonsillectomy, are surgical procedures designed to open the airway. In rare situations, a tracheostomy (also spelled ‘tracheotomy’) is necessary. These are procedures designed to circumvent this sleep related collapse of these structures.
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