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Snoring & Sleep Apnea – Treatment is Key

Research shows that 45 to 50 percent of normal adults – about 40 million – snore.  Snoring can not only be a nuisance to those who sleep with or near you, but it can negatively impact your quality of life due to interrupted or lost sleep.  Habitual snorers, or those whose snoring is getting worse over time, are also at higher risk for sleep apnea, a serious condition that interrupts a person’s breathing during sleep.  Such interruptions can prevent the brain from getting enough oxygen.  And untreated sleep apnea can eventually lead to hypertension, pulmonary hypertension, heart problems or stroke. 

What is Snoring?
The noisy sound of snoring occurs when the flow of air through the passages at the back of the mouth and nose are obstructed.

Causes of Snoring

  • Poor muscle tone in the tongue and throat
  • Alcohol/sedatives cause tongue to relax and collapse in the back of the throat
  • Excessively bulky throat tissue
  • Long soft palate and/or uvula
  • Obstructed nasal airways

Evaluation is Key
Evaluation is important for anyone who snores.  A physician can determine if the problem is simply snoring or if the patient is suffering from sleep apnea.  Depending on the severity of the problem, different treatments that can help.

Lifestyle Changes
Making lifestyle changes can help alleviate snoring and improve health, including:

  • Adopting an athletic lifestyle to develop good muscle tone and lose weight.
  • Avoiding tranquilizers, sleeping pills and antihistamines before bedtime.
  • Avoiding alcohol for at least 4 hours and heavy meals/snacks for 3 hours before bed.
  • Establishing regular sleep patterns.
  • Sleeping on your side rather than your back.
  • Tilting the head of your bed upward by 4 inches.

However, for someone who has sleep apnea, these changes can be difficult to make.  Without enough sleep at night, he or she will probably not have the energy to adopt new habits.

Medical and Procedural Treatments  
While many over-the-counter devices claim to help (i.e. sprays, nasal strips), most are variable and ineffective.  More effective treatments for snoring and mild/moderate sleep apnea are:

A man uses the CPAP machine
  • An Oral Appliance – Worn at night to help pull the lower jaw forward and open the airway
  • The CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) Machine – Also worn at night and comprised of a facial mask that blows air into the mouth to open the airway

Both devices require a patient’s diligent compliance for them to be effective, especially the CPAP machine which should be worn five nights a week for 5-6 hours at a time.  If compliance is a problem, the team at WakeMed Physician Practices (WPP) – ENT can perform office-based procedures that will help with snoring, such as:

  • Radiofrequency Ablation – Controlled, low-power radiofrequency energy helps create lesions in the back of the throat.  Over 6-8 weeks, the lesions are naturally resorbed, reducing tissue volume and stiffening remaining tissue.  Quick recovery.
  • Pillar Procedure – Three tiny inserts are placed in the soft palate to help reduce the vibration that causes snoring and prevent airway obstruction.  The inserts add structural support and help increase the structure of the soft palate.  This procedure is less invasive and less painful than other surgical procedures and is completed in one, short office visit.  It is also cleared by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA).

For severe sleep apnea, there are more aggressive treatments that can help, such as surgery to reshape part of the palate, tonsil removal surgery and also nasal surgery.  The specialists at WPP-ENT can perform these surgeries as well.

If you snore, you and your loved ones don’t have to suffer.  Medical evaluation is important, and treatment can help.  While most everyone who has sleep apnea snores, not everyone who snores has sleep apnea.  Once we know what’s going on, we can make a positive difference.  For more information or to schedule an evaluation, call WPP – ENT at 919-350-1630.

Dr. Brett Dorfman is a physician with WakeMed Physician Practices – ENT.