Sleep Apnea Surgery versus Tracheostomy in Children: An Exploratory Study of the Comparative Effects on Quality of Life

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Successful surgery for medically refractory obstructive sleep apnea in children has prevented tracheostomy in many cases. However, sleep apnea surgery requires postoperative ventilatory support and intensive care, and the magnitude of the surgery may be substantial. Tracheostomy, in contrast, is a simple procedure that is considered the standard of care for relief of upper airway obstruction. To determine their relative benefits, the posttreatment quality of life in children with airway obstruction who underwent either sleep apnea surgery or tracheostomy was evaluated and compared in this exploratory study. A 76-item questionnaire was developed to assess the quality of life in this population, including an investigation of physical symptoms, psychosocial function, and costs. Forty-four parent questionnaires were returned; 16 of these parents had children who had had clinically successful sleep apnea surgery and 6 had children who had had tracheostomies placed for obstructive sleep apnea. Results revealed that the parents of children in the tracheostomy group ranked 95 percent of all items on the questionnaire as worse than the parents of children in the surgery group. These rankings included statistically significant group differences (p < 0.05) on number of hospital, emergency room, and physician visits, and hours per day spent on their child's respiratory care. In addition, parents of the successful sleep apnea surgery group reported significant improvement (p < 0.05) in 100 percent of symptom variables (i.e., choking, snoring, and daytime sleepiness), 75 percent of parental care variables (i.e., assisting with their child's breathing, suctioning), 67 percent of medical visit items, and 75 percent of the stress and coping variables (i.e., perception of child's distress, worrying about their child's breathing, level of family stress), indicating substantial gains in quality of life. Despite initially higher costs, successful surgery for obstructive sleep apnea was associated with substantial benefits in quality of life, health, and psychosocial outcomes when compared with tracheostomy. (Plast. Reconstr. Surg. 102: 1855, 1998.)

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