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Sleep Apnea Solution

More than 100 different sleeping and waking disorders have been identified and include condistions such as insomnia, sleep walking and sleep apnea. Ear nose and throat (ENT) doctors can diagnose and treat sleep disorders, which are grouped into four main categories:

  • Problems with falling and staying asleep
  • Problems with staying awake
  • Problems with sticking to a regular sleep schedule
  • Sleep-disruptive behaviors

Sleep Disorders

Pediatric ENT doctors, who practice pediatric otolaryngology, most commonly see sleepwalking and sleep terrors as sleep disorders in children.

Disorders like insomnia are more common in adults and have a wide range of contributing factors, including physical illness, depression, anxiety, stress, use of alcohol or other drugs and heavy smoking.

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a more serious disorder, causing problems with normal breathing during sleep. Two types of sleep apnea are central sleep apnea, which often occurs in people who are seriously ill, and obstructive sleep apnea, which is due to a blockage in the airway. Sleep apnea is often characterized by loud snoring, and causes fatigue, daytime sleepiness, morning headaches, poor concentration or memory difficulties, and sometimes, depression.

Persons with central sleep apnea have episodes of stopped breathing during sleep. Central sleep apnea can develop in persons who have life-threatening problems with the brainstem. Some conditions that cause it include complications associated with cervical spine surgery, encephalitis affecting the brainstem, severe arthritis or degenerative changes in the cervical spine or base of the skull and use of certain medications, such as painkillers.

Normally, the muscles of the upper part of the throat help keep the airway open and allow air to flow into the lungs. Even though these muscles usually relax during sleep, the upper throat remains open enough to let air pass by.

However, some people have a narrower throat area, and during sleep, relaxation of the muscles causes the passage to completely close. This prevents air from getting into the lungs. Loud snoring and labored breathing occur. During deep sleep, breathing can stop for a short period of time (often more than 10 seconds). This is called apnea.

An apnea episode is followed by a sudden attempt to breathe, and a change to a lighter stage of sleep. The result is fragmented sleep that is not restful, leading to excessive daytime drowsiness.

These factors contribute to obstructive sleep apnea:

  • Certain shapes of the palate and jaw
  • Large tonsils and adenoids in children
  • Large neck or collar size
  • Large tongue
  • Narrow airway
  • Nasal obstruction
  • Recent weight gain

Drinking alcohol or using sedatives before sleep may make you more likely to have an episode of apnea.

Exams and Tests

Your ENT specialist will perform a physical exam. This will involve carefully checking your mouth, neck, and throat. You will be asked about your medical history. The survey includes a list of questions about daytime sleepiness, sleep quality and bedtime habits. Tests will be done to diagnose an underlying medical condition. A sleep study (polysomnogram) can confirm sleep apnea. These tests may also be performed:

Sleep Apnea Solutions

Oxygen, nasal continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) or bilevel positive airway pressure (BiPAP) may be used for some types of central sleep apnea, and some types are treated with drugs that stimulate breathing. If central sleep apnea is due to heart failure, the goal is to treat the heart failure itself. Some obstructive sleep apnea solutions include:

  • Avoiding alcohol or sedatives at bedtime
  • Dental devices inserted into the mouth at night to keep the jaw forward
  • Weight management or weight loss

If these measures do not help, your ENT physicians may recommend CPAP therapy. CPAP is the first-line treatment for obstructive sleep apnea. For information on this treatment, see CPAP.

Surgery may be an option in some cases. This may involve:

  • Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP) to removing excess tissue at the back of the throat.
  • Tracheostomy to create an opening in the windpipe to bypass the blocked airway if anatomical causes are present (rarely done).

Surgery to remove the tonsils and adenoids may cure the condition in children; it does not usually help adults.


For both adults and children, you should call for an appointment with your WakeMed Physician Practices — ENT physician if either a lack of sleep or too much sleep are interfering with daily living, and especially if you experience excessive daytime sleepiness.

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