Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a major heath problem. In the United States, at least 17 million people have moderate to severe OSA, which is characterized by heavy snoring, airway blockage and frequent awakenings during sleep. OSA is one of the major causes of severe daytime sleepiness, and is a major risk factor for automobile accidents and workplace injuries. If left untreated, OSA has been implicated as a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, including hypertension and heart failure, as well as stroke.
OSA is caused by collapse of the upper airway during sleep, and treatment for the disorder is based upon therapies that keep the airway open. The most common treatment for OSA is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). At least 50% of patients with OSA find it difficult or impossible to use CPAP and are therefore candidates for surgery. However, current surgical options for these patients are very limited, particularly related to the tongue base.