The Sound and the Fury A new treatment for snoring can help both of you sleep happily ever after.
(MONEY Magazine) – Let's face it: Snoring is embarrassing. No one wants to picture him- or herself supine, slack-mouthed and roaring away like a chainsaw. But about 40 million Americans do it--and for as many as half of them, the midnight sound effects may indicate a serious disease called sleep apnea, in which sleepers stop breathing several times an hour. If it's not treated, apnea can cause heart disease, hypertension, stroke and, in rare cases, death. Treating the apnea can help control high blood pressure, says Dr. Safwan Badr, pulmonary specialist and president of the American Sleep Apnea Association (www.sleepapnea.org). If you have apnea--your doctor can refer you to a sleep lab for a test--treatments are likely to be covered by medical insurance. But for those of us who don't, here's a cost-conscious plan.
Turn down the volume. The simplest way to stop snoring, often, is to lose weight. That's because the source of the sounds is usually a fat, floppy uvula and throat that relax too much during sleep and vibrate. Other tactics: Quit smoking, don't drink alcohol at bedtime and try not to sleep on your back. Also, avoid sleeping pills, advises Dr. Vahid Mohsenin, director of the Yale Center for Sleep Medicine. These cause muscle relaxation, which can exacerbate apnea.
Clear your head. If you suffer from allergies or rhinitis, ask your doctor to recommend a decongestant, antihistamine or nasal spray. If your snoring is caused by a constricted nasal passage or deviated septum, Breathe Right strips may do the trick. A year's supply runs about $145 at the drugstore; they're not covered by insurance.
The surgical route. Still snoring? If your doctor suspects apnea, you'll need an overnight sleep study called polysomnography. Electrodes attached to your scalp, chin, chest and legs record brain waves (EEG), eye movements (EOG) and muscle tension (EMG). Heart rate and rhythm are recorded by an electrocardiogram. The procedure is not uncomfortable, and its $1,000 to $1,500 cost is typically covered by insurance. Sleepers with apnea stop breathing five times an hour or more.
The traditional apnea treatment, called continuous positive airway pressure or CPAP, entails hooking yourself up to a ventilator-like machine every night; it's still the preferred treatment for severe apnea and is covered by insurance. But if wearing a breathing mask to bed is more than you can handle, a new outpatient surgical procedure called radio frequency ablation may be your answer. This technique quiets snorers with mild apnea and is proving more lasting, less painful and quicker to heal than older types of surgery.
The ideal candidate for radio frequency ablation is a non-obese snorer, says Dr. Douglas Ross, associate professor of surgery at Yale University. Here's what happens: After the mouth and throat are numbed with local anesthetic, a surgeon cauterizes the fleshy tissue at the back of the throat with a probe that emits radio waves. The procedure takes about a half hour, and the resulting moderate pain lasts a couple of days. As the wounds heal, they create scar tissue, stiffening the soft palate and eliminating the floppiness that caused the snores. Eighty percent of patients have shown significant improvement after two or three treatments. Radio frequency ablation is not cheap: about $2,500, typically not covered by insurance. Compared with a new bedroom for your spouse, though, it's a deal.