Sleep Apnea and Sinus Problems: A Crucial Connection

Breathing and the Sinuses

Breathing, obviously, is a vital life function. The body needs a constant flow of oxygen in order to function at its full capacity and optimum level. The nose and sinuses are an important, fundamental part of the respiratory system. In fact, nasal breathing is far superior to breathing through the mouth, especially during sleep, and especially if you have Sleep Apnea. There are stimuli in the nasal passages that stimulate respiratory function. In addition, there are filters in the nostrils and in the sinuses that filter inspirited air before it enters the lungs; people who breathe through the mouth don’t get that luxury.

The lungs are able to retrieve the oxygen from our respirations and turn that oxygen into energy and food for the body. When exhaling through the nose, air is expelled from the body at a slower rate. The slowed rate of expiration gives the lungs more time to extract all of the useful oxygen from the inspirited breath. When air is expelled from the body too quickly during mouth breathing, the lungs do not have an adequate amount of time to extract oxygen from the air, decreasing the level of oxygen in the blood.

Breathing through the nose forces the respiration process to slow. Nose breathers experience a rate of breath fifty percent lower than that of a mouth breather. Proper nasal breathing can help prevent the breather from developing hypertension, and can reduce stress.

How Sleep Apnea Affects the Sinuses

People respiratory disorders like Sleep Apnea often breathe through their mouths while sleeping. During mouth breathing, the brain often registers that carbon dioxide levels in the body are too low or being expelled too quickly. As a result of this, the brain feels the need to slow the process of breathing down. In order to do this, the brain stimulates activity in the goblet cells. The goblet cells in the body produce mucus; the mucus slows breathing and causes blood vessels in the sinuses to constrict.

When the nasal passages become partially, or completely obstructed, it becomes harder for the respiratory system to transfer air in and out of the passages; this requires more work and therefore more energy to be used. There are delicate, collapsible tissues in the throat that support the respiratory systems that can easily be pulled together by the extra pressure exhibited by the lungs in an effort to breathe. When the tissues and muscle mass are pulled strongly together with enough force, they can touch each other and completely block the passage of air into the body. Obstructive Sleep Apnea events occur when an obstruction of the airway completely stops the passage of breath.

Most patients who suffer from Sleep Apnea experience problems snoring. Snoring is one of the most common symptoms of Obstructive Sleep Apnea and be the identifier of sinus problems. Patients who snore, and may have Sleep Apnea or other sleeping disorders, should have a thorough examination of the different components of the upper respiratory neck, throat, nose, mouth, and soft palate.

Sinus Problems that Can Cause Sleep Apnea

  • Symptoms of Sinus Problems:
    • Stuffiness or Congestion
    • Postnasal Drip
    • Pain in the Teeth
    • Tenderness of Discomfort of the Face- Many people with sinus problems experience tenderness and pain at the bridge of the nose, across the cheekbones, or under the eyes. The pain often gets worse when lying down or putting the head forward. Constant low-grade pain in the forehead can be a symptom of sphenoid sinusitis. The pain is often worse when wearing glasses, or in the late morning.
    • Redness or Tenderness in the Cheekbones
    • Sore Throat
    • Halitosis, or Bad Breath
    • Coughing
    • Fever
    • Headaches Caused by Excess Pressure in the Sinuses- In most cases, the headaches are sever and are in the forehead.
    • Double Vision
    • Sleep Apnea patients who have sinus problems often turn to CPAP therapy to treat their problems. Some of these patients, however, report waking up with a dry mouth, dry nose, or dry eyes. While the sinuses perform better when unobstructed by mucus, too-dry sinuses can result in blood vessel breakage and bleeding in the nasal passages.

Handling Sinus Problems with Sleep Apnea

If you experience sinus problems or sinusitis in addition to Sleep Apnea, you need to consult a medicalprofessional for analysis and treatment options. ENTs, or otolaryncologists, are more commonly referred to as Ear, Nose, and Throat doctors. Otolaryncology is the best medical field to consult if you are experiencing sinus problems and think you may have Sleep Apnea. If you are already diagnosed with Sleep Apnea, your primary care physician should be able to assist you in managing your sinus problems. If they cannot treat you themselves, they will be able to refer you to an ENT for further assistance.

Treatment for sinus problems will be dependant on the doctor’s diagnosis, but my include any of the following options: tonsil or adenoid removal, treating allergies or other respiratory problems, and surgical correction of nasal abnormalities or deformities. While surgery is popular for snorers and victims of sinus problems, it can be a risky procedure. There is no certainty that surgery will correct sinus problems affecting your Sleep Apnea. Because of this, surgery is too risky of an option for many patients. If you have a problem with surgery, you might want to try sleeping with a Positive Airway Pressure machine. Mouthpieces, or oral appliances, that change the positioning of the jaw may also be worn to keep the tongue from obstructing the airway.

Staying hydrated is the easiest way to protect the body against sinus problems. Proper water intake will help thin the mucus in the nasal passages, making it easier to expel from the body. Saline nasal solutions can help clean and clear the nasal canals to prevent mucus from obstructing the airway. Nasal strips are popular treatments for keeping the nasal passage open during the night.

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