The nose serves three primary functions: to warm, humidify and filter air as it passes into the body. Breathing problems may impact one or multiple of these functions. Breathing problems can be temporary or chronic, mild or severe, but they usually increase with age. Breathing problems are assessed through physical examination along with breathing tests, such as lung function tests for diagnosing asthma or spirometry to determine how much and how fast you can blow air out of your lungs. X-rays and CT scans may also be taken to get a visual picture of your breathing apparatus. The most common breathing problems are discussed below:

Allergies

When an allergen enters the body, the immune system kicks in to counter to the effects. In most cases, the immune systems produces histamine, which causes the symptoms typically associated with allergies and hay fever: headaches, sneezing, watery or itchy eyes, nasal congestion and scratchy throat. Allergic substances range from pollens to environmental and chemical pollutants. Smoking can also contribute to nasal congestion. To treat allergies, most people need to reduceg exposure to the allergen and take medication, often antihistamines and nasal decongestants. For more severe cases, allergy shots may be needed to build up the body’s immune response to the allergen over time.

Deviated Septum

The septum is the vertical structure that divides the two nasal passages in the nose. When the septum is crooked or bent, it is called a deviated septum, which can block the flow of air through the nose. If the constriction is serious, an outpatient surgical procedure can straighten out the septum and open the nasal airways.

Environmental Factors

Molds, dust and dry air are the most common culprits of environmentally induced allergies. These can be assessed by your doctor through physical examination and skin tests. If the allergic response is severe, your doctor may recommend allergy shots to build up an immunity to the allergens and alleviate your symptoms.

Lung Diseases

Certain lung diseases can also cause breathing problems, including asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (such as emphysema or chronic bronchitis).

Sinusitis

Sinusitis is an inflammation of the sinus tissue behind the upper cheeks on both sides of the nose, between the eyes and above the eyes. It is characterized by congestion and a feeling of pressure, sometimes in response to moving up and down. Sinus pressure can also cause watery eyes. Many over-the-counter medications suffice in treating mild sinusitis. For more serious cases, prescription medications may be required to alleviate the pain and pressure and open up the nasal passages. Occasionally, surgery is required to remove chronically inflamed sinus tissue.

If you’re experiencing persistent breathing problems, please contact our office and schedule an appointment with one of our otolaryngologists.

Snoring/Sleep Apnea

Snoring is a noise produced during sleep that originates in the back of the throat or nose. Snoring occurs when the muscles in the back of the mouth, tongue and throat relax while sleeping, which narrows or blocks the airway. Breathing causes your uvula (soft palate) to vibrate and knock against the back of the throat, resulting in the snoring sound. Swollen or infected tonsils and adenoids, blocked nasal passages or a deviated septum can also narrow the airway and lead to snoring. Obesity, some medications and alcohol consumption before bedtime may contribute to snoring.

Snoring can also be a sign of a more serious problem, known as obstructive sleep apnea. With sleep apnea, the relaxed muscles at the back of the throat cause the throat to close, which stops breathing, typically from 20 seconds to up to three minutes. Most sleep apnea sufferers experience this cycle of snoring, apnea and awakening five or more times a night. Sleep apnea has a higher incidence among people age 40 and older, people with a family history of snoring and in postmenopausal women.

Because it disrupts the normal sleep pattern, sleep apnea makes you feel tired, slows your reaction time and can lead to confused thinking and memory loss. Other complications of sleep apnea can be high blood pressure, heart attacks, stroke, hypertension, anxiety and depression.

Sleep apnea is diagnosed through a physical examination with particular emphasis on weight, blood pressure and airway constriction in the nose, throat and lungs. In many cases, a sleep test will be recommended at a sleep laboratory. The sleep test monitors 16 different body functions while you sleep and can help identify the exact cause and severity of the sleep apnea.

Simple techniques for alleviating mild apnea are to sleep on your sides (not on your back) and avoid alcohol or sedatives before bedtime. In mild cases, treatment may consist of nasal decongestants, inhaled steroid preparations or oral mouth devices that force the jaw forward to prevent the tongue from falling back and constricting the throat. For more difficult cases, your doctor may prescribe a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP). This device straps onto your face and generates pressurized air, which helps keep your airway open during sleep. In severe cases, surgery may be called for to open the airway, including a tonsillectomy, adenoidectomy or deviated septum repair.

If you suffer from debilitating snoring or think you may have sleep apnea, please contact our office and schedule an appointment with one of our otolaryngologists.

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