Sleep Apnea May be Eased by Sinus Surgery

Snoring man

When you struggle with sinus troubles, it can be difficult to breathe well enough to get a good night’s sleep. But now, you may be able to put those days behind you, as a new study says that sinus surgery may correct this problem for people who suffer from sinus issues and even sleep apnea.

The study, which was published in JAMA Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery online, found that about 15% of people who go through sinus issues also have obstructive sleep apnea, the study said. After undergoing surgery to clear their sinuses, participants also found that the issues the had in relation to sleep apnea were eased. They were able to sleep better throughout the night and have a better quality of life.

“Poor sleep, feeling tired, and fatigue are all frequent complaints of patients with chronic sinus disease,” said Dr. Jeremiah Alt. The doctor was an author to the study as well as a nose, ear, and throat surgeon at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

“Sinus and nasal problems often are part of the problem leading to snoring and sleep apnea, and are often overlooked and left untreated, ” said Dr. Jordan Josephson. He was not involved in the current study, but he read its findings and works as a specialist at New York City’s Lennox Hill Hospital. He also added that anyone with chronic sinus issues and/or breathing problems should be checked for sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea is a disorder characterized by frequent breathing interruptions during sleep. The airways collapse, not allowing air to get through. Symptoms of the disorder include snoring, fatigue, and gasping for air, among others. Treatment options include BIPAP and CPAP machines, which pump air through the airways, not allowing them to close.

For the study, the doctors sent out questionnaires to 400 people who underwent surgery after having chronic sinus issues and/or sleep apnea. Sixty of the patients had both sleep apnea and sinus problems. After the surgery, it was found that patients did in fact improve issues they face psychologically and issues pertaining to sleep. The doctors do, however, acknowledge that the exact connection between sinus problems and sleep apnea is unclear.

“When we’re asleep, we prefer to breathe through our noses,” said Peter Fotinakes, a sleep disorder specialist. “When we can’t, we open our mouth to breathe, and when you open your mouth, it sets your tongue free.” He added that since sinuses force you to breathe through your mouth and sleep apnea can be caused by your tongue falling back to block your airway, they are likely related.

The doctors say surgery should not be the first step of treatment, but rather a more advanced option if nothing else is working. Other medicines and treatments are available for both sleep apnea and sinuses, and should be used before an invasive treatment such as surgery.

“However, many patients see tremendous benefits in both disease severity and overall quality of life after sinus surgery” that they didn’t get with medicines alone, Alt added.

“The good news is that with newer surgical techniques, most of these procedures can be performed on an outpatient basis without general anesthesia, requiring no packing, no black and blues, with minimal discomfort and most patients can go back to work or school the next day,” Josephson said.

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