Me, wired up for a sleep study. Photo taken at...

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A new study released by the Army at Sleep 2011 shows real success in treating sleep apnea with the surgical procedure called MMA ( maxilla-mandibular advancement).  Across the group of soldiers who participated in the study, almost every participant experienced a clinically significant decrease in the number of apneas experienced during sleep.  These findings pave the way for Army doctors to offer more comprehensive and accessible solutions to soldiers with sleep apnea, a benefit that may also reach those civilians who struggle to get the sleep they need while using their CPAP machine each night.

The study included a retrospective look at thirty seven soldiers who were experiencing moderate to severe sleep apnea prior to having the MMA surgery.  All but one of the participants had fewer apneas and improved sleep quality once the size of their upper airway was increased during the operation.  Sixteen of the participants, about 43% of the total, were essentially cured and showed no recurring apnea post-op.  An additional 17% decreased their apnea-hypopnea score by more than half.

While these results are great for the sleep community as a whole, they are especially important for soldiers.  The most common treatment for those who suffer from sleep apnea is the use of a CPAP machine which creates continuous positive air pressure in the airway while the person is sleeping, preventing the apneas and relieving the symptoms.  The biggest problem with CPAP treatment is getting people to use it.  Many sufferers will try the mask for a month or more, but find it too cumbersome to use while sleeping, even if it results in a significant increase in sleep quality.

For soldiers, the problem with the CPAP treatment is not just how difficult it can be to sleep comfortably while wearing the mask.  The equipment can be impractical and in many cases impossible to use during deployment.  Soldiers often spend time sleeping in rough conditions, without access to electricity and they cannot rely on access to the machine or the means to run it in order to protect themselves from the harmful effects of the sleep apnea.  This is why the results of this study are so significant for the military medical team.

If you are a sleep apnea sufferer and are considering surgical intervention, there are some specific things to consider and important questions to ask your doctor and sleep specialist. First and foremost, request a realistic assessment of how effective the MMA or other surgery is likely to be based on your specific anatomy.  Depending on the cause of your apnea and the location of the obstruction, surgery may not bring you the relief you expect.  In some cases, surgery can actually make an existing apnea worse, which is why this is such an important topic to discuss.  Second, make sure you understand the risks of surgery, any potential complications, and how long of a recovery period you can expect.

Surgery may be the right solution for your sleep problems, just make sure you have all the information you need and the right expectations of what results you can expect.  And we can all sleep easier knowing that our soldiers will be sleeping easier too.

About Us:

Since 2002, Valley Sleep Center, accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, has provided Arizona with diagnostic sleep disorder testing in a home-like atmosphere, ensuring a comfortable, relaxing experience for patients. Our Board Certified Sleep Medicine Specialists are experienced and knowledgeable physicians who provide expert advice on sleep and sleep-related disorders. We accept most insurance plans as well as Medicare. For additional information about how we might be able to help you, please contact Lauri Leadley at 480-830-3900.

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