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Treating snoring and sleep apnea

Snoring affects almost 30 % of the adult population. Even though snoring itself is harmless and won’t cause any health problems later on, it can be a burden on the people sleeping next to the affected person. Snoring can be dangerous when it comes with something called obstructive sleep apnea syndrome or OSAS which affects up to 5 % of those who snore.

When OSAS becomes severe it can happen several times an hour leading to long-term health problems such as high blood pressure, brain circulation problems or even heart attacks.

If you suspect sleep apnea you should consult a doctor especially if you experience fatigue, memory loss or frequent headaches. In these cases your doctor will likely order a thorough investigation including sleep endoscopy.

Snoring mechanism

When should I consult a doctor?

If snoring happens infrequently or it has a rather obvious cause (like eating too much for dinner, drinking alcohol or having common cold) you don’t need to worry and a doctor’s appointment shouldn’t be necessary.

If your snoring is mild, doesn’t bother you or your environment, doesn’t cause fatigue, concentration problems doctors don’t consider it dangerous to your health.

Often, if you change your lifestyle, or leave your bad habits behind snoring can be stopped or at least moderated.

However, if you snore all the time, in every body position and you experience fatigue and other symptoms it’s important to get a doctor’s appointment sooner rather than later. Especially that sleep deprivation can lead to road or work accidents and even stroke and heart attack.

The negative consequences of snoring

Sleep apnea is not a life-threatening condition, but in long-term, it has serious consequences. During shortness of breath, blood oxygen levels are reduced and the carbon dioxide level increases, which increases adrenaline levels, blood pressure and pulse. As a result, after a longer period, the stertorous is startled and gets breathless.

This night’s “stress response” leads to higher blood pressure in long-term, which is a risk factor for heart attack and stroke.

According to statistics, in patients with apnea, the risk of heart attack is forty times greater than for healthy people. Sleep disturbances may cause other daytime effects:

  • Physical and mental fatigue
  • Higher blood pressure
  • Cardiac arrhythmia
  • Dysfunction of sensory organs
  • Reduced sexual desire
  • Psychic problems

According to a study, people suffering from snoring or sleep apnea cause five times more accidents – apparently due to persistent fatigue and concentration difficulties.

What treatment options are there?

As there are several different causes behind snoring, the treatment plan changes accordingly. First, usually a somnologist or an ear- nose and throat specialist suggests lifestyle changes or minor treatments.

These suggestions vary because of the cause of snoring, such as weight loss, changing body position while asleep, quitting smoking or alcohol, taking up sports or moderate medication consumption.

There are various options to lessen snoring without surgery. You can try a lot of different things from anti-snoring pillows, anti-snoring watches, nasal sprays, anti-snoring throat sprays, snore-free nose clips, nasal strips to anti-snoring applications you can download to your phone or even dental prostheses. However these often bring only temporary relief and without surgical intervention the snoring comes back.

If the above mentioned methods don’t work, there are numerous surgical treatments which can eliminate snoring once and for all – these all make the nasal breathing easier, better:

At Medicover Hospital we prefer the LAUPP (Laser Assisted Uvulopalatoplasty), RAUPP (Radiofrequency-assisted uvulopalatoplasty) or the coblation technique to reduce snoring because these are the most effective methods to treat the problems.

If you suffer from sleep apnea, your doctor will decide whether surgery is an option for you, based on the severity of your symptoms.

In our hospital, sleep endoscopy is a preferred method to discover the exact cause of your snoring. This allows doctors to examine your sleep apnea and symptoms while you are in a medication induced state of sleep. While you’re asleep an endoscopy is used to examine your upper airways so your doctor will know whether you have problems because of a swollen tonsil or a big tongue or even nasal deviation. After this the surgery can be calibrated to treat the root of your problems, avoiding unnecessary interventions.

How does the chosen treatment method work?

As surgery is usually done under general or local anesthesia there are a few examinations that needs to be done beforehand. You need to undergo a blood test, ECG and a chest x-ray. Based on these results your internal medicine doctor will determine whether surgery is safe for you or not.

LAUPP surgery is performed under general anesthesia. During surgery a laser diode is used to reduce the uvula or the soft palate (sometimes both needs to be done).

When radiofrequency or coblation is the chosen method, your doctor either uses a coblation or radiofrequency electrode to shrink your uvula and soft palate, these are usually done under local anesthesia.

If the examinations diagnose nasal septum deviation, swollen inferior nasal concha, nasal polyps, swollen tonsils or big tongue base, your doctor will recommend their appropriate treatment.

What are the benefits and risks of the surgery?

The above mentioned surgical methods usually reduce or often completely eliminate the snoring you suffer from, and they treat the sleep apnea that comes with it as well.

The key to success is to thoroughly examine you beforehand, preferably with sleep endoscopy. It’s important to acknowledge that often more than one factor contributes to snoring (for example obesity, old age, lifestyle, medications, tobacco etc.) Surgery obviously can’t correct every factor, it’s necessary to make changes in your habits as well.

The negative side effect of surgery is an approximately 10 day pain, which you might experience during swallowing. This however can be eliminated with painkillers given you by your doctor.

What happens after treatment?

If treating snoring surgery is done under local anesthesia you can leave our hospital a few hours after treatment, if general anesthesia is used, you can leave to recover in your home the day after.

You should rest as much as possible in the two weeks after surgery, you need to avoid any activity that elevates blood pressure because this can cause bleeding. You need to drink as much fluid as possible and eat only soft foods. Alcohol should not be consumed.

If there are no complications you can get back to work 14 days after surgery, however the complete healing process takes approximately 3 weeks. Heavy exercises can be done from the 4th week post-surgery.

When is surgery contraindicated?

Even though LAUPP, RAUPP and coblation surgeries are relatively risk-free, they are only done when an illness indicates it.

There are cases, health states, risks when surgery or general anesthesia is contraindicated. In these cases we suggest local anesthesia or discourage you from surgery. Your doctor will make this decision based on your results.