, Volume 11, Issue 5, pp 358-367
Date: 11 Aug 2009

Treatment options for obstructive sleep apnea

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Opinion statement

Sleep apnea is a major public health problem that afflicts 9% of women and 24% of men 30 to 60 years of age. It is highly treatable, but when untreated, it has been associated with (but not necessarily linked to) increased probability of cerebral and coronary vascular disease, congestive heart failure, metabolic dysfunction, cognitive dysfunction, excessive daytime sleepiness, motor vehicle accidents, reduced productivity, and decreased quality of life. The gold standard for treatment in adults is positive airway pressure (PAP) therapy: continuous PAP (CPAP), bilevel PAP, autotitrating CPAP, or autotitrating bilevel PAP. Measures to increase compliance with PAP therapy include medical or surgical treatment of any underlying nasal obstruction, setting appropriate pressure level and airflow, mask selection and fitting, heated humidification, desensitization for claustrophobia, patient and partner education, regular follow-up with monitoring of compliance software, and attendance of support groups (eg, AWAKE). Adjunctive treatment modalities include lifestyle or behavioral measures and pharmacologic therapy. Patients with significant upper airway obstruction who are unwilling or unable to tolerate PAP therapy may benefit from surgery. Multilevel surgery of the upper airway addresses obstruction of the nose, oropharynx, and hypopharynx. A systematic approach may combine surgery of the nose, pharynx, and hypopharynx in phase 1, whereas skeletal midface advancement or tracheotomy constitutes phase 2. Clinical outcomes are reassessed through attended diagnostic polysomnogram performed 3 to 6 months after surgery. Oral appliances can be used for patients with symptomatic mild or moderate sleep apnea who prefer them to PAP therapy or for whom PAP therapy has failed or cannot be tolerated. Oral appliances also may be used for patients with severe obstructive sleep apnea who are unable or unwilling to undertake PAP therapy or surgery.

For children, the main treatment modality is tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy, with or without turbinate surgery. Children with craniofacial abnormalities resulting in maxillary or mandibular insufficiency may benefit from palatal expansion or maxillary/mandibular surgery. PAP therapy may be used for children who are not surgical candidates or if surgery fails.