Snoring is believed to affect between 30 and 50 percent of Americans at one time or another. Those who snore loudly may also suffer from obstructive sleep apnea syndrome (OSAS), a potentially dangerous condition characterized by significant and prolonged interruptions of breathing during sleep. Over time this can place a significant strain on the heart and affect overall health.
Snoring is not sleep apnea and sleep apnea is not snoring. The York ENT otolaryngologists are skilled at determining the difference between the two and works closely with patients to develop the most effective treatment plan possible.
An important study frequently performed in the evaluation of sleep related breathing disorders is a polysomnogram (PSG) or sleep test. This overnight test is administered in a sleep laboratory. The patient sleeps for a number of hours and the lab monitors such things as heart rate and rhythm, respiratory rate, blood oxygen levels, the volume of the snoring, and the number of times the patient experiences sleep apnea spells.
Based on the results from the PSG sleep test, the otolaryngologist will classify a patient as either a snorer or as a person with an obstructive sleep apnea syndrome.
Snoring is caused by vibrations of flexible tissues in the throat during sleep. As the chest expands during respiration, air is passively drawn into the lungs via the nose and mouth. Muscles in the body relax during sleep. Snoring is caused when relaxation of the tonsillar area, soft palate, and uvula in the back of the throat collapse and vibrate during sleep. Excess weight, alcohol intake, and smoking can also worsen snoring.
For patients who snore loudly, York ENT has a variety of treatment options. Non-surgical treatment options include weight loss, avoidance of sedatives and alcohol, and changes in sleeping position (keeping the snorer off his or her back). Bite splints at night to reposition the jaw during sleep are often of benefit.
When non-surgical treatment isn’t effective, the otolaryngologist may consider surgery. For patients with a clear airway obstruction, such as a deviated septum or large tonsils, surgery can be directed specifically to those areas. Another cause of snoring is often the excessive tissue within the soft palate.
- Somnoplasty is an outpatient procedure that involves radiofrequency surgery of the soft palate and uvula. After numbing the area with a local anesthetic, the otolaryngologist inserts a small electrode below the surface. A carefully controlled amount of energy is delivered, causing a thermal coagulation of the tissues below the surface of the soft palate. As the body heals over the next several weeks, the soft palate contracts and tightens due to the healing process. This reduces the laxity of the tissues and improves snoring. The procedure requires no incisions and pain is minimal. The somnoplasty technique also can be used to treat enlarged nasal turbinates, finger-like projections on the inside of the nose that humidify and clean inspired air.