Frequently Asked Questions about Sleep Apnea, Snoring & Sinus Conditions
What is snoring?
Snoring occurs when there is an obstruction of airflow through passages at the back of the mouth and nose. The obstruction causes negative air pressure, which leads to vibrations of the soft tissue. The sound that these vibrations cause is called snoring.
What causes snoring?
The vibration in the back of the throat is often caused when there is an interruption to the free flow of air through the nose and throat when sleeping. The structures that may cause this disruption are:
- Deviated nasal septum
- Nasal polyps
- Nasal turbinates
- Abnormally relaxed muscles
- A large tongue or tonsils
- Excessive weight
- The shape of the head and/or neck
How do I know if I snore?
Because snorers are asleep while they snore, they’re usually unaware of their problem until a partner informs them. It may also be difficult for snorers to make a connection between snoring and daytime symptoms. Therefore, it’s important to note the daytime symptoms that may be red flags indicating that snoring is disturbing your sleep.
Take our snore quiz to find out if you might be a snorer.
What daytime symptoms are caused by snoring?
The sleep loss associated with snoring impairs a person’s ability to perform tasks involving memory, learning, reasoning, and mathematical processes. Daytime symptoms that may indicate that you are snoring at night can include:
- Morning headaches
- Irritability and burnout
- Poor memory and concentration
- Sleep debt
- Dry mouth
- Poor job performance
How common is snoring?
Although many people are reluctant to admit that they have a problem, more than forty million Americans snore every night.
Is snoring a serious problem?
Snoring may seem to be just a personal problem that happens in the privacy of your own home, however, the consequences of snoring can have far-reaching effects outside of the bedroom, impacting relationships both at home and work as well as work performance. In addition, it can have grave long-term health effects. Snoring may be a sign of a more serious condition such as sleep apnea which can lead to high blood pressure, arrhythmia, enlargement of the heart, stroke or dysfunction in the lungs.
What can I do to stop snoring?
Most people will hide their snoring problem or pretend that it doesn’t exist, but it can be a very serious condition. Sometimes snoring can be treated with changes in lifestyle, but when that doesn’t work, medical evaluation is necessary. There are many non-surgical and surgical treatments available to snorers today, depending upon the cause(s) of the disorder.
Some lifestyle modifications include:
- Weight loss
- Quitting smoking
- Reducing the use of alcohol, sedatives and sedating antihistamines
- Changing your sleep position to the side and/or elevating your head and neck
Some medical treatments include:
- Clearing nasal passageways
- Identification and avoidance of allergens
- Treatment for nasal allergies
- Treatment for nasal polyps
- Treatment for deviated nasal septum
- Treatment of chronic sinusitis
- Solutions in the throat
- Removal of enlarged tonsils or tonsillectomy
- Trimming the uvula and soft palate, or laser-assisted uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (LAUP)
- Reducing the vibration of soft tissue, or radio-frequency palatoplasty
- Pillar Procedure
- Breathing devices
- Surgical procedures
Read more about how to stop snoring here.
What is sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea is the snoring disorder that is considered the most dangerous to your health, and unfortunately, it is also the most common. Sleep apnea sufferers stop breathing dozens of times throughout their sleep. Apnea is particularly severe and life threatening when there are more than twenty (20) or thirty (30) events per hour. Because the heart is sensitive to oxygen levels in the blood, apnea is most dangerous in people with heart disease. This condition can also lead to high blood pressure, heart complications, lung dysfunction and stroke. It is commonly believed that sleep apnea is a precursor of diabetes.
There are three types of sleep apnea:
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA): Related to an obstructed upper airway, and it is the most common type as well as the most serious. Soft tissue in the palate, throat, or tongue may block the flow of air as a person struggles to breathe.
- Central Sleep Apnea: A rare form that is caused by a problem in the central nervous system wherein the respiratory center in the brain that is responsible for breathing fails.
- Mixed Apnea: A combination of obstructive and central apnea, which many researchers believe is also very common. The reason for this is because a person with obstructive apnea often has a tendency to breathe rapidly when recovering from an obstructive apnea event, thereby lowering the carbon dioxide level in the blood, which can trigger a central apnea event.
How do I know if I have sleep apnea?
If you have problems with loud snoring, daytime sleepiness and/or fatigue, there is a good chance you have sleep disordered breathing or obstructive sleep apnea. To diagnose this disorder, you’ll need an initial evaluation consisting of a thorough head and nose exam by an otolaryngologist. The doctor may then recommend a sleep study or polysomnogram, which collects information from electrodes that are taped to a person’s head, face, chin, chest, abdomen, and legs while sleeping.
Learn more about sleep apnea here.
How is sleep apnea treated?
Sleep apnea treatment generally starts with a focus on modifying the patient’s lifestyle. There are also breathing devices that treat sleep apnea and surgical options, when necessary.
- Lifestyle Modification: Since excessive weight is the most common risk factor, a weight loss program that combines diet and exercise should be pursued. The use of alcohol and/or sedatives, particularly in the late evening should be discontinued, since they lower muscle tone and increase obstruction. Smokers should be strongly advised to stop smoking. In addition to the well-documented adverse effects of smoking, chronic irritation and drying of the air passageways lead to increased obstruction.
- Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) Mask: CPAP is the gold standard for the treatment of obstructive sleep apnea. A CPAP unit delivers a continuous flow of air through the upper respiratory tract and acts as a stent, keeping the tissues from collapsing. The CPAP mask consists of a small air pressure generator connected by tubing to a snug-fitting nasal mask that is worn while sleeping. Bi-level Positive Airway Pressure (Bi PAP) is a similar device that delivers pressurized airflow only during the inspiration. CPAP and Bi PAP units are customized to the individual’s needs by respiratory therapists. Proper fit of the nasal mask is necessary, and appropriate air pressure settings should be established for each individual. The units are portable and may be used when traveling.
- Surgery: After other treatments have been considered and tried, a surgical procedure may be required. Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP) is the most common surgical procedure for obstructive sleep apnea. Performed under general anesthesia, the uvula and a small portion of the soft palate are removed. If enlarged tonsils are present, they will be removed at the same time. Often individuals with obstructive sleep apnea have concurrent nasal obstructions, which contribute to their condition. Many physicians will surgically correct a deviated nasal septum and/or reduce the size of the turbinates at the same time as performing a UPPP.
Learn more about treatments offered at eos sleep on our treatments page.
What is nasal obstruction?
Nasal obstruction is one of the most common reasons that patients see an ear, nose and throat doctor. A persistent stuffy nose is not normal and a blockage in the nasal cavity can cause sinusitis, headaches, snoring and possibly sleep apnea. There are many different causes of nasal obstruction that fall into two categories: anatomical and non-anatomical. The most common anatomical cause is an abnormality in the nasal septum or bones inside the nose called turbinates. Common non-anatomical causes include nasal polyps and chronic sinus disease also known as sinusitis.
What is sinusitis?
Sinusitis, or sinus infection, is an inflammation of the sinuses and nasal passages characterized by a headache or pressure in the eyes, nose, cheek area, or one side of the head. Patients with a sinus infection may also have a cough, a fever, bad breath, and nasal congestion with nasal secretions.
Sinus infections are distinguished by their duration and their location:
- Acute Sinus Infection: When one or more of the sinuses is infected for a short term, it is referred to as acute sinusitis. In ear, nose and throat medicine, acute refers to an abrupt beginning to an infection that can last three weeks to three months. Acute sinusitis is typically caused by a viral or bacterial infection that may eventually disappear without medical supervision.
- Chronic Sinus Infection: When a sinus infection lasts more than three months it is considered chronic and is often caused by allergies or a physical abnormality such as a deviated septum or malformed bone. Chronic sinus infection symptoms may be less severe than an acute infection, but a chronic infection can last for years.