Sleep apnoea is a condition that affects far more people than you might realise. Researchers found during an international study conducted in 2018 that almost 1 billion people suffer from sleep apnoea worldwide. Because it occurs during sleep, you may not be aware that you have it, but it can have a significant impact on your health.
What is sleep apnoea?
Sleep apnoea is a disorder that is characterised by interrupted breathing during sleep. This can happen hundreds of times during one sleep session. When your breathing is interrupted, your body is deprived of oxygen, and your brain can be deprived of oxygen too.
There are 2 types of sleep apnoea. Central sleep apnoea occurs when your brain fails to trigger your muscles to breathe regularly. Obstructive sleep apnoea occurs when your airways, including your nasal passages and throat, become blocked.
Sleep apnoea is linked to a host of medical issues, including an increased risk of stroke, diabetes, mental health conditions, heart failure or high blood pressure. Severe sleep apnoea can be dangerous, so it’s important to get a proper diagnosis if you suspect you might have it.
What are the symptoms of sleep apnoea?
You may notice the following symptoms:
- Snoring, often loudly
- Restlessness during sleep
- Waking up suddenly
- Waking up with a choking sensation
- Dry or sore throat
- Fatigue during the day
- Depression or irritability
- Loss of libido
Your partner may also notice you snoring or breathing irregularly if you share a bed.
How can sleep apnoea be treated?
If your sleep apnoea is obstructive, treatment will usually focus on the ear, nose and throat. While there are many different medical and surgical options for sleep apnoea, recent studies have suggested that sinus surgery may offer an improvement in symptoms, if the problems are in the nose/sinuses.
Your sinuses are cavities within your skull and are a part of your airway system. Sinus surgery is typically carried out to clear your sinuses, reduce inflammation and limit the occurrence of sinus infections. This is achieved by removing blockages such as polyps or cysts. As sleep apnoea is often caused by obstructions to your airways, sinus surgery may be an effective way to improve airflow and prevent interruptions to your breathing during sleep.
Types of sinus surgery
Sinus surgery can be performed using a number of different techniques. Your doctor will probably choose the least invasive option if they believe you are a good candidate for surgery. Common types of sinus surgery include:
- Endoscopic sinus surgery, in which your surgeon uses rigid endoscopes and a small camera to remove blockages without an incision. This may include septoplasty and trifioplasty
- A more invasive surgical procedure, which may need to be carried out if there are growths within your sinuses
Is sinus surgery the solution to sleep apnoea?
Although there is research to suggest that sleep apnoea can be improved with sinus surgery, you should be cautious. Whilst studies have shown an improved quality of life for patients post sinus surgery, this is also because of the improvement they feel in their sinuses in general. Not every patient with sleep apnoea will have blocked or inflamed sinuses, in which case it would not help their sleep disorder at all. Most researchers have finished their studies into sinus surgery and sleep apnoea by suggesting further clinical trials are required before a definitive conclusion can be reached. There are not at present enough statistics available to confirm that sinus surgery is the answer to treating sleep apnoea in most patients.
Surgery of any kind, especially one that requires anaesthetic, poses risks. Some of the risks of sinus surgery include:
- Eye injury
- Brain injury
- Reaction to anaesthesia
- Tissue damage
- Loss of smell
Because of these risks, the decision to have surgery should not be taken lightly. If you think sinus surgery may have significant benefits to you, you should talk to your doctor and weigh up these risks.
What are the benefits of surgery?
Despite the need for further research, if you have a history of sleep apnoea and problems with your ear, nose and throat, you may still be a good candidate for sinus surgery. Your ENT surgeon may also suggest performing more than one procedure at once, such as correcting a deviated septum or reducing tissue in other areas to improve airflow. A combination of surgical approaches may offer you a better quality of life.
The benefits of sinus surgery include:
- Improved breathing
- Fewer colds and infections
- Reduction in snoring
- Improved quality of sleep
- Fewer headaches
- General feeling of wellness
Are there alternative treatment options?
While surgery might sound like a quick fix, there are other treatment options that may be more suitable. Common sleep apnoea treatments include:
- Nasal sprays
- An oral device for wearing during sleep
- A continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, which keeps your throat open with a steady stream of air as you sleep
Your doctor may also recommend that you quit smoking, increase your exercise levels, lose weight and improve your general health to try to combat your sleep apnoea before resorting to surgery.
If you have sleep apnoea or any condition that you believe affects your ability to breathe normally, make an appointment to see your doctor for a referral to an ENT specialist. They will be able to discuss your symptoms and your alternative treatment options, as well as the possibility of surgery.
Article reviewed by Dr Ravi Seshadri, ENT surgeon at Parkway East Hospital
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