Snoring and Sleep Apnea, What's the Big Deal?
Snoring may simply be a noise that you might make while asleep (that most likely disrupts everyone else's sleep, not yours). The noise mostly comes from the throat. The tissues in the back of the mouth, the tongue, and the throat naturally relax while you sleep. If they go a step futher and begin to flop around as you breath in and out, you make noise. Big tonsils and adenoids are common culprits causings snoring in kids. Also, blocked nasal passages and/or a deviated septum make the snoring that much worse. Alcohol consumption (or any sedative really) before bedtime can make it worse.
So what can be done? If we are really convinced that it is only snoring and there are no other medical concerns, we may offer a variety of solutions. Some people snore only when the sleep on their back. Solution? Don't do that. We can help you get fitted for a "snore vest." Essentially it provides a comfortable inflatable pillow right in the middle of the back. We can also make sure that your nose is clear and that nasal bockage is not making the problem worse. Nasal salt water washes, antihistamines, and even prescription nasal sprays can help. You may have a deviated septum or abnormally large turbinates which can both be fixed with out-patient surgery. Finally, we do offer the "Injection Snoreplasty," which a safe, low risk, office procedure that has proven to lower your snoring volume very effectively.
Sometime, snoring can be a sign of a more serious problem: Obstructive Sleep Apnea. This is a real medical problem and is incredibly common - and it is often under-diagnosed. Apnea means "no breathing." When a patient has sleep apnea, the throat relaxes and closes off the breathing. This puts significant stress on the body. In order to breathe again you must wake up, open up the throat, and inhale. Sleep apnea is diagnosed if you have more than 5 episodes per hour while asleep. That may seem to be a lot, but we see patients who routinely stop breathing over 100 times per hour at night. Clearly, this is not a good way to go through life.
Two problems occur when a person has Obstructive Sleep Apnea. First, they are tired all of the time. Imagine awakening every 12 minutes (or more frequently) an hour every night. Not only are they tired, they begin to suffer in their work and personal relationships. They are also at risk for "Drowsy Driving" which is just about as dangerous as driving after drinking.
And if that wasn't enough, the body doesn't do well with ongoing breathing struggles. Every time a person has an apnea they put a strain on their heart, lungs, and blood vessels. That is why sleep apnea is associated wtih high blood pressure, heart attacks, stroke, anxiety and depression.
Fortunately, we can diagnose Sleep Apnea at Great Hills ENT. A thorough physical exam is performed on weight, blood pressure and airway constriction in the nose and throat. In many cases, a sleep study is recommended. We conveniently have a sleep lab in the office.
If you are diagnosed with sleep apnea, you may be offered one of the following treatment options. Simple techniques include nasal decongestants and inhaled nasal steroids (to keep your nose open) or oral mouth devices that move the jaw forward to prevent throat collapse. For more severe cases, your providor may prescribe Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP). This is a mask that is worn over the nose at night. Low pressure air acts as a stent to keep your airway open during sleep. Sometimes, surgery may be an option to open the airway. Tonsillectomy, palatal surgery, adenoidectomy (in kids) and/or correction of a deviated septum are all useful in the right patient.
If you suffer from debilitating snoring or think you may have sleep apnea, please contact our office and schedule an appointment.