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Following the Labour Party leader Ed Miliband’s operation to correct a deviated septum, there has been much speculation that he has merely undergone this operation to improve the sound of his voice.

The political editor of The Guardian, Patrick Wintour, was particualrly dismissive of the medical need for Mr Miliband’s medical procedure, and also seems to grossly underestimate the seriousness of sleep apnoea:

“Ed Miliband had been asleep for an hour, recovering from an operation his team ludicrously continued to insist was solely about tackling a deviated septum in his nose, so making it easier for him to sleep, and possibly for his wife Justine to be spared the odd snore.”

I can only assume that Mr Wintour and his partner have never suffered from sleep apnoea, which as any sufferer will tell you is a serious and chronic condition that can ruin your quality of life, and that of your partner. There is also a growing body of evidence that sleep apnoea contributes to heart disease, and also road traffic accidents.

While this kind of surgery is only undertaken in a minority of cases (CPAP treatment is effective in 90% of cases), it can be an effective treatment for sleep apnoea, and I can only assume that this was the diagnosis Mr Miliband received as his operation was done on the NHS.

While it’s surely beneficial that the leader of the Labour Party Ed Miliband being diagnosed with sleep apnoea will increase awareness of the condition in the UK, I hope that people don’t get the impression that surgery is the best, or most common, solution. CPAP is the safest and  most tried and tested solution to sleep apnoea and is recommended by NICE.Ed Miliband

Surgery is not usually a first  option for helping Obstructive Sleep Apnoea sufferers and in my practice only about 11%  of all patients have surgery. However in some cases, especially children, the cause for Obstructive Sleep Apnoea might be enlarged tonsils or adenoids. Removing them, therefore, removes the problem. Mr Miliband does not seem to be in this category though as the Daily Telegraph reported last week:

“It had long been assumed that he merely had enlarged adenoids – fleshy parts behind the nose that can affect the voice… However on Friday a spokesman denied reports that he was having an adenoidectomy, and instead disclosed that Mr Miliband is suffering from sleep apnoea, a potentially serious condition that affects the breathing while asleep, which is made worse by a problem with the partition in his nose, known as a deviated septum. He will undergo a surgical procedure, most likely one known as a septoplasty, to reshape the cartilage and bone in his nose. This should make his breathing easier and may also make his voice clearer.”


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March 2013
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