Multilevel temperature-controlled radiofrequency therapy of soft palate, base of tongue, and tonsils in adults with obstructive sleep apnea



Objectives/Hypothesis: The concept of two-level pharyngeal collapse in patients with obstructive sleep apnea is too simplified. Aggressive multilevel surgeries addressing several airway segments, including skeletal surgery, demonstrate improved success rates. Study Design: The study aimed to evaluate the safety and efficacy of multilevel radiofrequency application to soft palate, tonsils, and base of tongue in 16 white patients (mean age, 56.9 ± 11.1 y; mean body mass index, 27.3 ± 2.6 kg/m2) with obstructive sleep apnea. There was one dropout. Therapeutic effects after one treatment session were assessed 20.6 ± 12.6 weeks postoperatively. Treatment outcome measurements were based on Epworth Sleepiness Scale, Likert scales, and polysomnography. Methods: Every patient received 16 treatment sites with a total dose of 9750 J radiofrequency energy into soft palate, base of tongue, and tonsils. Success was defined as respiratory disturbance index equal to or less than 20 or at least 50% improvement if baseline respiratory disturbance index was less than 20. Statistical analysis was determined with the Spearman rank test. Results: Mean score on Epworth Sleepiness Scale decreased from 11.1 to 8.2 (P = .0001). Of the patients, 53.3% reported improvement of their daytime sleepiness. Snoring was assessed with 10-point Lickert scale, and score decreased from 7.5 to 4.9 (P = .08). Mean respiratory disturbance index decreased from 32.6 δ 17.4 to 22.0 δ 15.0 (P = .003). By our definition of success, 5 of 15 patients (33%) have been treated successfully surgically and 4 of 15 (27%) had remarkable improvement after one treatment session; 1 patient (6.6%) demonstrated deterioration. There were two adverse effects, one superficial ulceration of the soft palate and one unilateral tonsillar abscess formation, with an overall complication rate of 13.3% for our patients and 0.41% for all treatment sites (n = 240). Conclusion: Moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea usually requires multilevel pharyngeal surgery. Radiofrequency offers the potential of altering the upper airway on different sites.