Sleep apnea is a serious condition; many people aren’t even aware they have it. It is a disorder of breathing while sleeping. Breathing may become shallow or stop altogether only to start again noisily. People resort to uncomfortable sleep studies and devices in an effort to get relief. Many times your ENT can treat sleep apnea by restoring proper breathing.

Nasal obstruction as the cause

If the cause of your sleep apnea is nasal obstruction; correcting and removing the obstruction can bring an end to the apnea. Your ENT can perform a physical examination of your nose and sinuses, an endoscopic examination and imaging tests (such as a CT scan) to determine if your nasal passages are obstructed.

If polyps are present, they can be treated with medication or removed by surgery. If the septum is not properly aligned, it can be corrected with septoplasty surgery. If bones and tissue in the nasal passages or sinuses are causing an obstruction they can be corrected with balloon sinuplasty or functional endoscopic sinus surgery. If nasal turbinates are obstructing breathing, they can be corrected with turbinoplasty surgery.

Once proper breathing through the nasal passages is restored then a sleep study can be performed. In some cases it is not even necessary as the surgery or other treatment to remove the nasal obstruction is effective.

Devices to correct sleep apnea

Once proper nasal breathing is restored corrective devices such as the CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) or oral devices to reposition the lower jaw will be more effective.

These devices work to keep the tongue and the back of the throat from obstructing breathing during sleep. If the cause of the sleep apnea is obstruction in the nasal passages these devices will not be effective. That is why it is crucial that effective sleep apnea treatment begins with clearing nasal obstruction first.

Other sleep apnea surgery

Other surgical procedures may be performed in special circumstances. These procedures are invasive and do not have high success rates. They should only be considered in highly special circumstances or if all other approaches have failed. These include:

  • Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty. In this procedure, excess tissue is removed from the throat. The uvula, tonsils and adenoids may be removed as part of this surgery. In addition, soft tissue from the roof of the mouth may also be removed. This procedure can have a negative impact on speech, the sound of the voice and swallowing.
  • Hyoid Suspension. This procedure is used to move the tongue and throat tissues forward by attaching the hyoid bone in the neck to the thyroid cartilage. If the cause of the apnea is limp tongue muscles or an enlarged tongue this may be an effective treatment. Swelling of the tongue and problems swallowing as a result of nerve injury are possible complications of this surgery.

See the ENT for an evaluation

If you think you suffer from sleep apnea, arrange a consultation with your ENT. You may find that simply removing nasal obstruction with or without surgery may be the answer to getting the sleep your body needs.