How Do ENTs Treat Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder, which is characterized by episodes when you stop breathing during sleep. Sleep apnea is not the same as snoring, but loud snoring may be a symptom of sleep apnea.
How is sleep apnea diagnosed and what are the symptoms?
Many people may assume that they don’t need medical treatment because snoring is a very common problem. Around a quarter of the adult population snores. The important thing to remember is that although snoring and sleep apnea are linked, they are not the same. When you have sleep apnea, you actually experience periods when you stop breathing. These episodes last at least 10-15 seconds. In the most severe cases, sleep apnea can be life-threatening, and this is why careful management is required.
Sleep apnea occurs when the upper airways narrow, causing the airway to become blocked. This prevents the free flow of oxygen and reduces oxygen levels in the blood. As a result, the heart has to work harder to pump blood around the body. Sleep apnea also disturbs natural sleep rhythms and patterns, and it’s very common to wake up feeling like you haven’t had enough sleep. As well as waking up feeling tired, people with sleep apnea also tend to snore very loudly, and they can sometimes be heard gasping for breath.
If you have symptoms of sleep apnea or you snore on a regular basis, it’s wise to seek medical advice. When you see an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist, they can carry out tests to determine whether you have sleep apnea. If a diagnosis is confirmed, the next step is to discuss treatment options.
How ENTs treat sleep apnea
ENT specialists have expertise in diagnosing and treating conditions that affect the ears, nose and throat. If you have sleep apnea, your ENT specialist may recommend treatment options including CPAP, lifestyle changes and the use of medical devices. In some cases, surgery may be considered.
CPAP, or continuous positive airway pressure, is delivered through a mask, which is worn while you sleep. This form of therapy opens the airway and increases oxygen levels in the blood, making it easier to breathe. In many cases, this type of treatment will be sufficient to treat symptoms, but your ENT doctor may also recommend making some changes to your lifestyle. Sleep apnea is often linked to being overweight or obese, and smoking can also exacerbate symptoms. Losing weight, being more active and making healthier choices could have long-term benefits for your health.
In milder cases, oral devices, such as nasal dilators and mandibular advancement devices, may be recommended. These appliances are designed to open up the airways while you sleep.
Surgery is often a last resort that is used when other treatments have failed. However, it may be necessary in cases where anatomical issues are contributing to sleep apnea, for example when the airways are narrow or the nose is blocked.
If you snore persistently, you struggle for breath, or you find that you don’t feel refreshed or well-rested when you wake up, it may be worth seeing an ENT specialist. These symptoms are linked to sleep apnea, which can be a very serious and even fatal condition.