Snoring/Sleep Apnea

Snoring occurs when there is an obstruction to the air flow through the back of the mouth and nose which causes the tissue in the back of the throat to vibrate creating a snoring sound. Some causes of snoring include:

  • Enlarged or infected tonsils or adenoids
  • Nasal obstruction due to a deviated septum
  • Obesity
  • Alcohol and drug use
  • Some medications
  • Allergies
  • Soft tissue abnormalities

If your snoring is interfering with your restful sleep or your partners sleep, it’s important to find a solution.

Sleep Apnea happens when the relaxed muscles in the back of the throat cause the throat to close off, obstructing air flow. This usually occurs anywhere from 20 seconds to up to three minutes, lowering the amount of oxygen in the blood and causing the heart to work harder. The cycle of snoring, periods of apnea, and awakening disrupt the normal sleep pattern, resulting in fatigue, slowed reaction time, memory loss, and confused thinking. High blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, anxiety, accidents, and depression are some other potential complications of sleep apnea. The symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) include:

  • Loud snoring
  • Breaks in breath during sleep
  • Waking up gasping or choking
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Headaches in the mornings
  • Frequent urination at night time
  • Irritability, mood changes, depression, trouble concentrating

In order to diagnose sleep apnea, a physical examination is performed and in most cases a sleep test is recommended. The sleep test will determine the exact cause and the severity of the sleep apnea. In children, snoring and sleep apnea may be a sign of problems with the tonsils and adenoids. In adults, there are often several contributors to the problem. Some of the factors that contribute to snoring and sleep apnea include:

  • Poor muscle tone of the tongue and throat- over relaxation of the tongue and throat muscles can result in airway obstruction.
  • Bulky throat tissue- Airway narrowing can be caused by enlarged tonsils and adenoids, large tongues, or extra neck tissue due to obesity.
  • Elongated soft palate/uvula- The opening from the nose to the throat is narrowed with a long soft palate and can result in noisy breathing, snoring, and OSA.
  • Blocked nasal passageways- nasal congestion due to allergies or sinusitis as well as nasal obstruction due to a deviated septum can contribute to snoring and OSA.

Treatment for snoring and sleep apnea depend on the severity and the contributing factors.

If you are a heavy snorer and it negatively affects the quality of your sleep or your partner’s sleep, have a medical examination to ensure that you do not have sleep apnea. An evaluation by an ENT specialist can determine the reason for your snoring, which may be allergies, infection, nasal obstruction, or enlarged tonsils and adenoids. A sleep study may be required to determine if OSA is a problem.

Obstructive sleep apnea is often treated with a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) device. It is worn during sleep and helps to open the airway using positive pressure through the nose and/or mouth. In mild cases of OSA, treatment may consist of nasal decongestants, inhaled nasal steroids, or oral appliances. When obesity is a factor, significant weight loss can improve snoring and sleep apnea. In severe cases, surgical intervention addressing the soft palate and uvula, tonsils and adenoids, or deviated septum may be indicated.

If you suffer from disruptive snoring or if you think you might have sleep apnea, please contact our office and schedule an appointment with one of our otolaryngologists.

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