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Sleeping Soundly: Is There Really a Surgery to Stop Your Snoring?

Loud snoring is just a nuisance for some. But for others, it could pose some serious health issues.

Editor’s note: This article has been reviewed for accuracy from an earlier version posted in February 2021.

We’ve all been there … sharing a room with someone who snores. The snoring culprit might have even been you. If you’re a chronic snorer, you know that it can take a toll on your relationship, annoy your roommates and even affect your own health. But there’s good news for those who don’t sleep soundly at night: Snoring is a treatable condition. 

We spoke with Dr. Colin Huntley, an otolaryngologist and board-certified sleep specialist at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, to find out more about treatments—including, yes, surgery—for snoring. 

Why do people snore? 

Despite being such a universal experience, snoring can be caused by a number of health factors and will vary from person-to-person. “Snoring is the vibration of tissue in the upper airway,” says Dr. Huntley. “The tissues collapse against each other, but there are many different reasons why this happens.” Some reasons for snoring include:  

  • Nasal obstructions like a deviated septum, allergies, or a broken nose 
  • Large tonsils 
  • Diminished muscle tone of the throat during sleep 
  • Collapse at the back of the tongue 

How and when should people seek treatment for snoring?  

“If your snoring is causing disruption in your sleeping patterns or causing psychosocial distress, like fighting with your spouse, it’s time to talk to your doctor,” says Dr. Huntley. “If you experience symptoms like waking up and not being able to breathe, waking up tired after a full night of sleep or morning headaches, it could suggest the presence of sleep apnea.” Although not all people who snore have sleep apnea, most people who have sleep apnea experience chronic and disruptive snoring. 

If you’re thinking about seeking treatment for your snoring, start tracking your sleep patterns and symptoms. This can help your doctor determine the best plan of action moving forward. Make an appointment with your doctor to share your concerns and talk about what comes next. 

When thinking about treatment options for snoring, your doctor may suggest a sleep study, which can be done in a sleep lab or at home with a special device. “The sleep study is non-intrusive and involves sensors to assess your breathing pattern while you sleep,” says Dr. Huntley.

What are the non-surgical treatment options for snoring? 

Once your doctor has determined the cause of your snoring through a sleep study and other diagnostic evaluations, they will be able to determine what non-surgical treatments are right for you. 

“For patients with sleep apnea, the initial treatment is usually a CPAP machine. Many patients adjust well to sleeping with the CPAP machine, but for those who have a hard time tolerating it or who don’t want to stick with it, there are other options,” says Dr. Huntley. Another non-invasive option is an oral appliance worn during sleep that moves the lower jaw and the tongue forward to open up the person’s airway. 

Are there surgical treatments for snoring? 

There are, in fact, a number of surgical options for people who struggle with chronic snoring or sleep apnea. “When we’re thinking about surgery, we first have to determine which part of the airway is causing the obstruction that’s leading to snoring,” says Dr. Huntley. “We’ll do an in-office exam, and we may even use a camera endoscopically to pinpoint where the problem is.” 

Once your doctor determines the source of your snoring, they can advise you on the best surgery for your situation. Surgeries for snoring can include: 

  • Reconstruction to help stabilize structures in the back of the throat
  • Nerve implant to stimulate the tongue to contract and move out of the way
  • Surgery to remove nasal obstructions and increase airflow through the nose 

“One surgery that you may have heard of is uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP). This surgery involves cutting out excess soft tissue in the throat, including part of the uvula. The classic UPPP was one of the only surgical options to treat chronic snoring when it was first developed. Fortunately, we’ve developed new techniques to optimize outcomes for patients,” says Dr. Huntley. 

Who is a candidate for surgery? Will insurance cover it?  

Surgery to treat snoring is considered elective in most cases. Even so, most insurance plans will cover your surgery if you’ve been diagnosed with sleep apnea. “I suggest you talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about insurance and payment,” says Dr. Huntley. “They may be able to help you navigate the confusing world of claims in order to make the most of your coverage.” 

What is recovery like for these procedures?  

The vast majority of surgeries to help with snoring are outpatient procedures. “We don’t typically make incisions on the face or nose. Depending on the type of procedure, we’ll go in through the nose or mouth. If we need to perform a nerve implant, it will involve a very small incision,” says Dr. Huntley. 

As far as recovery goes, patients are usually back to their normal routines within a week to ten days, depending on the surgery. “Many patients feel a great sense of relief after a procedure to treat their snoring,” says Dr. Huntley. “If you’re concerned about your sleep patterns or are experiencing distress when it comes to disruptive snoring, don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor about treatment options.”

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