People who snore loudly are often the target of bad jokes and middle of the night elbow thrusts; but snoring is no laughing matter. While loud disruptive snoring is at best a social problem that may strain relationships, for many men, women and even children, loud habitual snoring may signal a potentially life threatening disorder: obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA.
Obstructive sleep apnea means that something in the upper airway leads to partial or complete blockage of breathing while asleep. This can be due to narrow nasal passages, large tongue, large tonsils, redundant tissues in the pharynx (throat), but the result is the same: those affected do not get enough oxygen while they sleep. Because of this lack of oxygen, people wake up partially to be able to breathe and this can happen from 5 to 50 plus times per night.
Some signs of sleep apnea include daytime sleepiness, irritability, fatigue, as well as serious medical problems including hypertension, congestive heart failure, risk of stroke, daytime fatigue that can lead to car accidents and workplace accidents. The only way to diagnose sleep apnea is with a formal sleep study that can often be arranged through your primary care physician, pulmonologist, or a sleep medicine specialist.
Some non-medical treatments that may alleviate snoring include:
- Weight loss — as little as 10 pounds may be enough to make a difference.
- Change of sleeping position — Because you tend to snore more when sleeping on your back, sleeping on your side may be helpful.
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine and heavy meals — especially within two hours of bedtime.
- Avoid sedatives — which can relax your throat muscles and increase the tendency for airway obstruction related to snoring.
At our practice, our surgeons specialize in multiple procedures that are effective in treatment of sleep apnea including chin advancement surgery, advancement surgery of both the upper and lower jaws, and as a last resort tracheostomy. Advancing the chin or the jaws serves to increase the size of the airway and improve the ability of air to pass while sleeping. Surgery is often only indicated in severe cases after medical therapies such as CPAP which serves to deliver oxygen under pressure while people sleep. This is why we work closely with you and your doctor to determine when and if surgery is advisable.