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Laser surgery can help those with sleep apnea

The emphasis of laser surgery is on trimming or reshaping the uvula, although the tonsils are also sometimes reduced if they affect the patient's snoring.

Snoring can no only be bothersome, it can be downright dangerous. Harry Kasitz knows that from experience. During sleep, Kasitz would vary between heavy snoring, which bothered his wife, Grace, and not breathing, which certainly worried Grace.

When he went in for a doctor's test, the semi-retired 74-year-old Newton resident was found to have sleep apnea, a condition where his throat was blocked during the night, stopping breathing for short periods of time.

To solve the problem, he could wear a mask connected to a blower, but that didn't appeal to Kasitz. He wanted a permanent solution.

If you suspect you have sleep apnea, you can help your doctor by collecting some evidence. You can use a tape recorder to capture the grunts, gasps and snoring sounds.

In the past, he could have gone to the hospital for surgery, an expensive, time-consuming process with mixed results. Fortunately for Kasitz, his spouse, and other snorers and sleep apnea victims, a fairly new and effective surgical procedure is available.

The outpatient operation is formally known as laser-assisted uvulapaltoplsty, a name few--even those who work with it --can pronounce with ease. The operation is more commonly referred to as LAUP (pronounced layup). LAUPs are performed for both sleep apnea victim and those with the more common problem of loud snoring.

Kasitz had the surgery performed about 2 1/2 months ago. It makes a world of difference, he said. "I'm real happy with it," he said. "My wife likes the fact that I don't snore anymore and I like not having to be tied into a machine."

The actual procedure takes very little time, anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes, with the entire office visit lasting about a half-hour. The freestanding device, with its two swinging arms, looks somewhat like a dental drill. During the procedure, the physician holds the device and aims a laser beam to the affected site--usually the uvula, the soft tissue that hangs from the palate.

The delivery is swift enough that tissue is vaporized before carbonization or any thermal damage occurs. Usually, this occurs when the muscles of the uvula and palate relax and act as noise-making devices when air moves past them. Excessive tissue can also contribute to the situation, as can an elongated uvula or palate.

Next: Link between apnea and hypertension