Tongue Reduction Surgery

Treating Sleep Apnea and Loud Snoring

Sometimes, loud snoring is a symptom of obstructive sleep apnea, a condition in which narrowed throat or another physical obstruction causes a person to stop breathing while he or she is sleeping for a few seconds until the body forces air through the airway, usually creating a very loud choking noise. The most prevalent symptom is loud snoring, which oftentimes can cause problems in the sleep apnea patient’s ability to feel well rested when he or she wakes up or throughout the next day and in the patient’s relationships with family members or bed partners who sleep nearby and therefore also are affected.

If you or someone you know notices irregular breathing at night, excessively loud snoring or symptoms of sleep apnea such as excessive sleepiness during waking hours, contact a sleep center for a polysomnography, or overnight sleep study, during which a team of sleep experts can monitor your behavior while you sleep and diagnose you with sleep disorders. A diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea should definitely be treated as soon as possible because long-term symptoms of not getting enough deep sleep can include high blood pressure, decreased productivity and concentration, stroke, depression and heart attack.

Tongue Reduction as a Surgery for Snoring and Sleep Apnea

Tongue reduction surgery is sometimes used as a surgery for snoring or a surgery to treat sleep apnea in patients whose tongues are obstructing the passageway for air to their lungs. Tongue reduction is achieved primarily through exposing a person’s tongue to high-energy radiofrequency meant to make the tissue shrink or make the tissue more stiff (and therefore less likely to move backward toward the opening of the throat while a patient with sleep apnea lies down to rest).

Radiofrequency is generally applied using a needle that shoots electrodes into the muscle tissue and causes the tissue to heat up internally, forcing structural changes on the tongue at the cellular level. Sometimes, the area where the needle has been inserted into the tongue may develop a lesion or a mass, similar to the way a scar might develop. Size of this lesion depends on what level of energy was injected into the tongue. Significant reduction in tongue sizes of surgery patients can then be noted using x-ray or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) technology. 

Although surgery for snoring and sleep apnea has been supported as an effective form of treating sleep apnea, the after effects of surgery may include disfiguration or a change in the tongue’s appearance, abnormal speech patterns and physical discomfort. As with any type of surgery, tongue reduction surgery is usually only relied on when other methods of treating sleep apnea, such as CPAP, BIPAP and dental devices have failed and the patient is in danger of more serious health complications. In addition, tongue reduction surgery is usually performed alongside other types of surgery for snoring and sleep apnea, such as nasal surgery, since tongue reduction surgery alone oftentimes isn’t enough to clear the respiratory passages.