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Laser Surgery Won't Cure Sleep Apnea

WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD

April 15, 2002 -- For sleep apnea sufferers, laser surgery isn't the best answer. While the procedure brings short-term relief, people often end up snoring worse than before.

The procedure called laser-assisted uvulopalatoplasty -- which involves removing soft tissue on the back of the throat and palate -- has been used since 1990, writes Yehuda Finkelstein, MD, a researcher at Meir Hospital, Sapir Medical Center in Kfar Saba, Israel. His study appears in the April Archives of Otolaryngology -- Head and Neck Surgery.

It "has become a popular treatment for the management of snoring," he writes. However, recent studies have shown that a large proportion of patients develop significant worsening of sleep problems, and only a few patients had satisfactory relief from their sleep problems.

In fact, two years ago, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine stated that LAUP, as the procedure is called, "is not recommended for the treatment" of sleep apnea, says Finkelstein.

In his study, Finkelstein tracked the progress of 26 patients who had LAUP for sleep apnea. Initial results were encouraging; up to 88% saw "significant improvements" in snoring. However, a year or so later, there was a "significant deterioration in the favorable results ... and significant aggravation" in snoring.

Important note: Though snoring was worse, the noise quality did seem to improve, he reports. After talking to bed partners, he found that the frequency of the snoring sound was changed -- and was "less annoying to the human ear."

He speculates that scarring caused by lasers may be the root of the problem.

Nevertheless, "we achieved a surgical success in only one third of our patients and found a deterioration ... in a considerable number," Finkelstein writes. These facts are "cause for concern" and suggest that LAUP might not be an appropriate procedure to treat sleep apnea.

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