Snoring can be a lifelong issue for many people, affecting themselves as well as their partner and family. Not only can snoring be a nuisance in the bedroom, but it can also result in poor sleep — which can impact energy levels, health, and productivity at work.
The good news is that today multiple non-surgical treatment avenues exist to alleviate snoring problems. “Specific types of (snoring) procedures can be performed here in the office without surgery as outpatient office procedures,” says Kiran Tipirneni, M.D., F.A.C.S., a board-certified otolaryngologist at The Ear, Nose, Throat & Plastic Surgery Associates.
What is Snoring?
Snoring is a condition where people make unwanted guttural sounds from their throat while they’re sleeping. People who snore may not even be aware of it. Snoring is typically seen in people as they age, more often in men than in women, but it can happen to either gender. Weight gain can also lead to worsening snoring by causing a narrowing of the upper airway.
There are many reasons why people snore, primarily connected to partial obstruction of airflow to and from the lungs at sites such as the tongue base, palate, and sometimes the nasal passageway. Snoring can result from a narrowing of the airways that causes the air passing through the throat to vibrate within its soft tissues, not unlike air flowing through a whistle.
Anything that causes the soft tissue in the mouth and throat to expand or relax too much can bring about snoring — like when one drinks alcohol or takes certain sedatives before sleeping.
When Does Snoring Become Problematic?
Otolaryngologists take a measured approach when snoring patients come in (willingly or not) for an evaluation. Their primary goal is to ascertain why someone is snoring and then to recommend the best course of treatment.
It is critical to assess whether a patient is experiencing snoring by itself or if it is related to obstructive sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a chronic condition disrupting one’s sleep and causing people to drift between deep and light sleep as their breathing alternates between shallow and blocked breathing. The result is inadequate sleep, leaving patients fatigued during the day. Sleep apnea can lead to a higher risk of other medical conditions down the road, including hypertension, heart disease and stroke.
Non-Surgical Treatments for Snoring
To treat your snoring, your doctor will likely first recommend specific lifestyle changes, including:
- Losing weight
- Avoiding alcohol before going to bed
- Treating nasal congestion
- Avoiding sleep deprivation
- Avoiding sleeping on your back
Oral appliances such as a mandibular advancement device (MAD) help to diminish restriction that may occur in the back of the throat by advancing the jaw (and by extension the tongue and soft palate) forward and away from the back of your throat. This increases the area of the upper airway, thus reducing the air resistance that leads to snoring.
“One of the treatments we offer for snoring here in the office is an oral appliance,” says Dr. Tipirneni. “An oral appliance is something that we fit people for in the office. It’s custom-fitted for the individual. The patient wears the oral appliance at night, and it keeps the mouth closed. It also brings the jaw and tongue slightly forward, so it doesn’t fall back, to help reduce vibrations in the base of tongue and as well as the soft palate.”
Typically, MADs fit within the mouth and are molded to your teeth to provide a stable platform through which the upper jaw acts as a fixed frame, and the lower jaw is pushed forward. The best MADs provide a support mechanism that allows incremental advancement of the jaw until the ideal balance between the back of the tongue and the soft tissue of the throat is achieved, and snoring and apnea stops.
Injection snoreplasty is a non-surgical treatment for snoring that involves the injection of a hardening agent into the upper palate. Injection snoreplasty is performed on an outpatient basis under local anesthesia.
“injection snoreplasty is a minor procedure that can be performed here in the office,” says Dr. Tipirneni. “A chemical is injected into the palate that causes it to scar, tighten, and stiffen, so it’s less vibratory.”
After numbing the upper palate with topical anesthetic, a hardening agent is injected just under the skin on the top of the mouth in front of the uvula (upper palate), creating a small blister. Within a couple of days, the blister hardens, forms scar tissue, and pulls the floppy uvula forward to eliminate or reduce the palatal flutter that causes snoring.
Another procedure called radiofrequency palatoplasty (reduction) uses radiofrequency created heat to shrink and stiffen the back part of the roof of the mouth (soft palate and uvula). When the soft palate and uvula are stiffer, they are less likely to vibrate, and you are less likely to snore.
“Radiofrequency reduction of the soft palate involves a wand that’s inserted into several places in the palate to create scar tissue,” says Dr. Tipirneni. “And over time that scar tissue prevents vibratory action of the soft palate (thereby) reducing snoring.”
To learn more about snoring or how to treat it without surgery, please feel free to contact us.