Snoring - When to see the ENT?
Snoring is considered a social problem because it disturbs bed partners and family members. However, about 15% of people who snore also have obstructive sleep apnea, which is a medical problem. There is no easy way to distinguish between the two so if you or a loved one snore, discuss with your doctor whether you should be tested for sleep apnea.
What Causes Snoring?
Snoring is caused by the vibration of the soft palate or back of tongue as air passes between the nose and the throat while sleeping. While awake, there is a muscle tone that keeps these structures from falling against the back of the throat, even if we are laying on our back. However, as we drift into deep sleep, this muscle tone goes away, and the palate and tongue can partially collapse and start to vibrate as we struggle to pull air through the narrowed breathing passage. Being overweight contributes to snoring and sleep apnea, but it can also occur in thin people. Medications, alcohol, or nasal congestion from respiratory infections can exacerbate snoring.
Treatments for Snoring
There have been many over-the-counter treatments advertised for snoring, many of which do not work. If you have difficulty breathing through your nose, Breathe-Rite strips may help but this is oftentimes not a feasible long-term treatment. Taping a tennis ball to your back (this keeps you from sleeping on your back) may help. Wearing dental appliances at night to help to keep your tongue from falling back may help. While these work for some, the resultant jaw discomfort often causes most people to abandon their use.
Surgery is always an option and this generally involves opening/reducing or stiffening some portion of your airway, anywhere from the nose to the back of the tongue. The choice of procedure depends on an individual’s anatomy. This may include nasal surgery, a tonsillectomy, a uvulectomy or stiffening/trimming the soft palate and back of the tongue.
If you’re overweight, the best treatment is to lose some weight. Unfortunately, the relationship between snoring and weight loss is not linear. That is, a little weight loss will not result in a little decrease in your snoring. Rather, there appears to be a “set-point” for each individual, so that if you are above this weight you’ll snore, and below it you won’t.
When Should I visit an Otolaryngologist (ENT doctor)?
If you have concerns about possible sleep apnea, this is a medical/health issue and a visit to an ENT is warranted. If Snoring is affecting your quality of life, or your bed partner is sleeping in a different bedroom, or if you simply have difficulty breathing through your nose, visit us at NCEENT and let us help determine the best solution for you. Dr. Yu sees patients in our Chapel Hill office, located at 55 Vilcom Center Drive, Suite 140, Boyd Hall, Chapel Hill, NC 27514. Call 919-595-2000 to schedule an appointment today.
By: Kathy Yu, M.D., M.P.H