At 65 years of age, a former coal miner, now 72-years-old, developed a progressive loss of concentration with daytime sleepiness and sleep disturbances. Work-up in pneumological and medical sleep centres resulted in diagnosis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), borderline obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome and, later, upper airway resistance syndrome. In addition, there was evidence of reduced efficiency of sleep. Neither the initial administration of theophylline nor the later use at night of hyperbaric respiration led to improvement in the patient's symptoms. Instead, the patient developed loud snoring, as well as the inability to sleep while in a lying position.
At age 71 years, otorhinolaryngological examination resulted in findings of age-related changes in the epiglottis, that completely blocked the hypopharynx upon inspiration. Polysomnography, which was possible only in a half-seated position, revealed reduction in deep sleep, with a maximum oxygen saturation of 77 per cent at an apnoea-hypopnoea index (AHI) of 4.8.
Partial resection of the epiglottis with laser surgery resulted in complete improvement of diurnal drowsiness and reduced stamina. Sleeping in a supine position again became possible. Polysomnography revealed normalization of sleep architecture, but unchanged, low efficiency of sleep.
This case underscores the importance of an interdisciplinary approach to the treatment of sleep-related breathing disorders.