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What is causing my sleep apnea? 

Like you, our goal at the Penn CPAP Alternatives Clinic is to have excellent patient outcomes.
This question, “what is causing my sleep apnea” is a very common and important one. After all,
if we can accurately identify the cause for the blockage(s) in your throat, we can tailor
treatments to address them. While the answer is often not straightforward, we use several tests
to best address the question.

It is important to understand that obstructive sleep apnea is generally caused by two problems
working together: anatomy and physiology.

  • Anatomy refers to the development of the bones and soft tissues of the face and throat.
    Patients with sleep apnea often have bones that are too small (“small room size”) or too
    much soft tissue (“large pieces of furniture”) that result in airway restriction.
  • Physiology refers to the muscle tone of your throat during sleep. Patients with sleep
    apnea often have reductions in muscle tone that cause the throat to collapse in sleep.

In order to determine the best surgical plan, we often require 3 tests to be performed.

  1. Sleep Study (physiology) – this overnight study would likely have been performed before
    your consultation visit. However, the study may need to be updated in preparation for a
    procedure. This study captures airflow and oxygen changes throughout the night,
    providing an understanding of the severity of your sleep apnea and other details (e.g.,
    sleep apnea is worse on your back than side)
  2. CT Scan (anatomy) – this 3-dimensional x-ray will provide high-resolution images of your
    jaws, throat tissues and airway from top to bottom. Several measurements will be made
    which have been shown to help determine which sleep apnea procedure(s) is right for
    you.
  3. Drug Induced Sleep Endoscopy or DISE (anatomy & physiology) – this sedation
    procedure uses IV medicine to reproduce Stage 2 sleep. Once you are in this sleep
    state, a thin scope is passed through your nasal passages to examine your throat. The
    Penn team has developed state-of-the-art diagnostics to determine both the site and
    severity of collapse.
    With these tests, Dr. Dedhia and team will be able to determine where your throat collapses
    during sleep and develop a treatment plan to address these blockages.

References

  1. What is causing my sleep apnea? [Patient fact sheet]

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