Snoring & Sleep Disorders

What causes Snoring?
Snoring is usually caused by flexible tissues in the throat which vibrate as a person breathes at night, causing the production of a noise. One part of the throat which commonly causes snoring sounds is the soft palate (the back part of the roof of the mouth). Other structures that can cause snoring are the tongue, tonsils, adenoids, and even problems with the nose can cause or aggravate the problem. Excess weight, alcohol intake, or smoking can also worsen snoring.

Why is Snoring a concern?
In some instances, snoring is simply an inconvenience for the sleeping partner. In other cases, the sleeping partner finds it impossible to get quality sleep due to the snoring. Sometimes snoring may be a sign of obstructive sleep apnea. This is a potentially serious medical disorder in which the snorer stops breathing repeatedly throughout the night and may have significant drops in oxygen levels of the blood. When this condition is present for months and years, it can place significant strain on the heart and lungs and affect the overall health of the patient, potentially shortening his or her life in the long run.

How is a patient with Snoring evaluated?
The evaluation begins with a careful history and examination of the airway by the ENT physician. Some patients will require a detailed study of their sleep patterns in a Sleep Laboratory. This is called a sleep study. Once the cause or causes for the snoring have been identified, treatment options are discussed.

How is Snoring treated?
Non-surgical treatments of snoring include weight loss and avoidance of sedatives and alcohol, particularly in the evening. Some patients consider a bite splint worn in the mouth to reposition the jaw during sleep.

Surgical options may also be considered. In patients with clear airway obstruction, such as large tonsils or significant nasal airway obstruction, surgery can be directed specifically at these areas. If there is not a significant airway obstruction on evaluation, then the most likely site of production of the snoring noise is the soft palate.

The treatments for snoring have been directed at the soft palate for some time now with good success. Recently, a laser procedure has been used to reduce the size of the soft palate and reduce or completely eliminate snoring; however, this procedure has been complicated by significant pain during the recovery period.

Another option for the management of snoring is Somnoplasty and can be performed in the office under local anesthesia. The soft palate is numbed with a local anesthetic. Then a very small needle is placed into the soft palate and is connected to a computer. This computer delivers a very specific amount of energy to the needle, which causes a mild burn on the inside of the soft palate. Over the next several weeks, as the body heals, the scarring process inside the soft palate causes it to contract and tighten. This leads to significant improvements in snoring in most patients.

Somnoplasty has significant advantages over previous techniques. Some patients do have pain with the procedure, but the majority of patients have minimal or no pain. The procedure does not require incisions and is much less invasive than previous techniques. It also has proven effectiveness. Somnoplasty is available for patients at Eastern Carolina Ear, Nose, and Throat - Head and Neck Surgery, Inc.

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The Somnoplasty technique has also been adapted for use in patients with nasal obstruction. The nasal turbinates are structures in the nose which filter and humidify the air. In some patients, the turbinates are enlarged and cause difficulty with nasal breathing. The turbinates can be anesthetized in the office and treated in exactly the same manner by using the somnoplasty device, and the results have been very positive. Again, this has the same benefits as somnoplasty for the soft palate. It is very non-invasive and there is minimal or no pain following the procedure. The improvement generally takes place over the following two to six weeks.

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