Overview of Sleep Disordered Breathing

Sleep-disordered breathing (SDB) is a general term for breathing difficulties occurring during sleep. SDB can range from frequent loud snoring to Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) a condition involving repeated episodes of partial or complete blockage of the airway during sleep. When a child’s breathing is disrupted during sleep, the body perceives this as a choking phenomenon. The heart rate slows, blood pressure rises, the brain is aroused and sleep is disrupted. Oxygen levels in the blood can also drop.

Approximately 10 percent of children snore regularly and about 2-4 % of the pediatric population has OSA. Recent studies indicate that mild SDB or snoring may cause many of the same problems as OSA in children.

Could my child have Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

The most obvious symptom of sleep disordered breathing is loud snoring that is present on most nights. The snoring can be interrupted by complete blockage of breathing with gasping and snorting noises and associated with awakenings from sleep. Due to a lack of good quality sleep, a child with sleep disordered breathing may be irritable, sleepy during the day or have difficulty concentrating in school. Busy or hyperactive behavior may also be observed. Bed-wetting is also frequently seen in children with sleep apnea.

A common physical cause of airway narrowing contributing to SDB is enlarged tonsils and adenoids. Overweight children are at increased risk for SDB because fat deposits around the neck and throat can also narrow the airway. Children with abnormalities involving the lower jaw or tongue or neuromuscular deficits such or cerebral palsy have a higher risk of developing sleep disordered breathing.

Potential consequences of untreated pediatric sleep disordered breathing

  • Social: Loud snoring can become a significant social problem if a child shares a room with siblings or at sleepovers and summer camp.
  • Behavior and learning: Children with SDB may become moody, inattentive and disruptive both at home and at school. Sleep disordered breathing can also be a contributing factor to attention deficit disorders in some children.
  • Enuresis: SDB can cause increased nighttime urine production, which may lead to bedwetting.
  • Growth: Children with SDB may not produce enough growth hormone, resulting in abnormally slow growth and development.
  • Obesity: SBD may cause the body to have increased resistance to insulin or daytime fatigue with decreases in physical activity. These factors can contribute to obesity.
  • Cardiovascular: OSA can be associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure or other heart and lung problems.

How is sleep apnea diagnosed?

Sleep disordered breathing in children should be considered if frequent loud snoring, gasping, snorting and thrashing in bed or unexplained bedwetting is observed. Behavioral symptoms can include changes in mood, misbehavior and poor school performance. Not every child with academic or behavioral issues will have SDB, but if a child snores loudly on a regular basis and is experiencing mood, behavior or school performance problems, sleep disordered breathing should be considered. If you notice that your child has any of those symptoms, have them checked by an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat doctor). Sometimes physicians will make a diagnosis of sleep disordered breathing based on history and physical examination. In other cases, such as in children suspected of having severe OSA due to craniofacial syndromes, morbid obesity or neuromuscular disorders or for children less than 3 years of age, additional testing such as a sleep test may be recommended.

The sleep study or polysomnography (PSG) is an objective test for sleep disordered breathing. Wires are attached to the head and body to monitor brain waves, muscle tension, eye movement, breathing and the level of oxygen in the blood. The test is not painful and is generally performed in a sleep laboratory or hospital. Sleep tests can occasionally produce inaccurate results, especially in children. Borderline or normal sleep test results may still result in a diagnosis of SDB based on parental observations and clinical evaluation.

Treatment for sleep disordered breathing

Enlarged tonsils and adenoids are a common cause for SDB. Surgical removal of the tonsils and adenoids (T&A) is generally considered the first line treatment for pediatric sleep disordered breathing if the symptoms are significant and the tonsils and adenoids are enlarged. Of the over 500,000 pediatric T&A procedures performed in the U.S. each year, the majority are currently being done to treat sleep disordered breathing. Many children with sleep apnea show both short and long-term improvement in their sleep and behavior after T&A.
Not every child with snoring should undergo T&A as the procedure does have risks. Potential problems can include anesthesia or airway complications, bleeding, infection and problems with speech and swallowing. If the SDB symptoms are mild or intermittent, academic performance and behavior is not an issue, the tonsils are small, or the child is near puberty (tonsils and adenoids often shrink at puberty), it may be recommended that a child with SDB be watched conservatively and treated surgically only if symptoms worsen.

Recent studies have shown that some children have persistent sleep disordered breathing after T&A. A post-operative PSG may be necessary after surgical intervention, especially in children with persistent symptoms or increased risk factors for persistent apnea after T&A such as obesity, craniofacial anomalies or neuromuscular problems. Additional treatments such as weight loss, the use of Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) or additional surgical procedures may sometimes be required.

© 2016 American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery

Today in the United States, studies estimate that 34% of U.S. adults are overweight and an additional 31% (approximately 60 million) are obese. Combined, approximately 127 million Americans are overweight or obese. Some 42 years ago, 13% of Americans were obese, and in 1980 15% were considered obese.

Alarmingly, the number of children who are overweight or obese has doubled in the last two decades as well. Currently, more than 15% of 6- to 11-year-olds and more than 15% of 12- to 19-year-olds are considered overweight or obese.

What is the difference between designated “obese” versus “overweight”?

Unfortunately, the words overweight and obese are often interchanged. There is a difference:

  • Overweight: Anyone with a body mass index (BMI) (a ratio between your height and weight) of 25 or above (e.g., someone who is 5-foot-4 and 145 pounds) is considered overweight.
  • Obesity: Anyone with a BMI of 30 or above (e.g., someone who is 5-foot-4 and 175 pounds) is considered obese.
  • Morbid obesity: Anyone with a BMI of 40 or above (e.g., someone who is 5-foot-4 and 233 pounds) is considered morbidly obese. “Morbid” is a medical term indicating that the risk of obesity related illness is increased dramatically at this degree of obesity.

Obesity can present significant health risks to the young child. Diseases are being seen in obese children that were once thought to be adult diseases. Many experts in the study of children’s health suggest that a dysfunctional metabolism, or failure of the body to change food calories to energy, precedes the onset of disease. Consequently, these children are at risk for Type II diabetes, fatty liver, elevated cholesterol, SCFE (a major hip disorder), menstrual irregularities, sleep apnea and irregular metabolism. Additionally, there are psychological consequences; obese children are subject to depression, loss of self-esteem and isolation from their peers.

Pediatric obesity and otolaryngic problems

Otolaryngologists, or ear, nose and throat specialists, diagnose and treat some of the most common children’s disorders. They also treat ear, nose and throat conditions that are common in obese children, such as:

Sleep apnea

Children with sleep apnea literally stop breathing repeatedly during their sleep, often for a minute or longer, usually ten to 60 times during a single night. Sleep apnea can be caused by either complete obstruction of the airway (obstructive apnea) or partial obstruction (obstructive hypopnea – or slow, shallow breathing), both of which can wake one up. There are three types of sleep apnea – obstructive, central and mixed. Of these, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common. Otolaryngologists have pioneered the treatment for sleep apnea; research shows that one to three percent of children have this disorder, often between the age of two-to-five years old.

Enlarged tonsils, which block the airway, are usually the key factor leading to this condition. Extra weight in obese children and adults can also interfere with the ability of the chest and abdomen to fully expand during breathing, hindering the intake of air and increasing the risk of sleep apnea.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has identified obstructive sleep apnea syndrome (OSAS) as a common condition in childhood that results in severe complications if left untreated. Among the potential consequences of untreated pediatric sleep apnea are growth failure; learning, attention, and behavior problems; and cardio-vascular complications. Because sleep apnea is rarely diagnosed, pediatricians now recommend that all children be regularly screened for snoring.

Middle ear infections

Acute otitis media (AOM) and chronic ear infections account for 15 to 30 million visits to the doctor each year in the U.S. In fact, ear infections are the most common reason why an American child sees a doctor. Furthermore, the incidence of AOM has been rising over the past decades. Although there is no proven medical link between middle ear infections and pediatric obesity there may be a behavioral association between the two conditions. Some studies have found that when a child is rubbing or massaging the infected ear the parent often responds by offering the child food or snacks for comfort.

When a child does have an ear infection the first line of treatment is often a regimen of antibiotics. When antibiotics are not effective, the ear, nose and throat specialist might recommend a bilateral myringotomy with pressure equalizing tube placement (BMT), a minor surgical procedure. This surgery involves the placement of small tubes in the eardrum of both ears. The benefit is to drain the fluid buildup behind the eardrum and to keep the pressure in the ear the same as it is in the exterior of the ear. This will reduce the chances of any new infections and may correct any hearing loss caused by the fluid buildup.

Postoperative vomiting (POV) is a common problem after bilateral myringotomy surgery. The overall incidence is 35 percent, and usually occurs on the first postoperative day, but can occur up to seven days later. Several factors are known to affect the incidence of POV, including age, type of surgery, postoperative care, medications, co-existing diseases, past history of POV, and anesthetic management. Obesity, gastroparesis, female gender, motion sickness, pre-op anxiety, opioid analgesics and the duration of anesthetic all increase the incidence of POV. POV interferes with oral medication and intake, delays return to normal activity and increases length of hospital stay. It remains one of the most common causes of unplanned postoperative hospital admissions.

Tonsillectomies

A child’s tonsils are removed because they are either chronically infected or, as in most cases, enlarged, leading to obstructive sleep apnea. There are several surgical procedures utilized by ear, nose and throat specialists to remove the tonsils, ranging from use of a scalpel to a wand that emits energy that shrinks the tonsils.

Research conducted by otolaryngologists found that morbid obesity was a contributing factor for requiring an overnight hospital admission for a child undergoing removal of enlarged tonsils. Most children who were diagnosed as obese with sleep apnea required a next-day physician follow-up.

A study from the University of Texas found that morbidly obese patients have a significant increase of additional medical disorders following tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy for obstructive sleep apnea or sleep-disordered breathing when compared to moderately obese or overweight patients undergoing this procedure for the same diagnosis. On average they have longer hospital stays, a greater need for intensive care and a higher incidence of the need for apnea treatment of continuous positive airway pressure upon discharge from the hospital. The study found that although the morbidly obese group had a greater degree of sleep apnea, they did benefit from the procedure in regards to snoring, apneic spells and daytime somnolence.

What you can do

If your child has a weight problem, contract your pediatrician or family physician to discuss the weight’s effect on your child’s health, especially prior to treatment decisions. Second, ask your physician about lifestyle and diet changes that will reduce your child’s weight to a healthy standard.

© 2016 American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery

Insight into causes and treatments

  • How does the Temporo-Mandibular Joint work?
  • What causes TMJ pain?
  • How is TMJ pain treated?
  • and more…

Open your jaw all the way and shut it. This simple movement would not be possible without the Temporo-Mandibular Joint (TMJ). It connects the temporal bone (the bone that forms the side of the skull) and the mandible (the lower jaw). Even though it is only a small disc of cartilage, it separates the bones so that the mandible may slide easily whenever you talk, swallow, chew, kiss, etc. Therefore, damage to this complex, triangular structure in front of your ear can cause considerable discomfort.

Where is the Temporo-Mandibular Joint?

You can locate this joint by putting your finger on the triangular structure in front of your ear. Then move your finger just slightly forward and press firmly while you open your jaw all the way and close it. You can also feel the joint motion in your ear canal.

How does the TMJ work?

When you bite down hard, you put force on the object between your teeth and on the joint. In terms of physics, the jaw is the lever and the TMJ is the fulcrum. Actually, more force is applied (per square foot) to the joint surface than to whatever is between your teeth because the cartilage between the bones provides a smooth surface over which the joint can freely slide with minimal friction.

Therefore, the forces of chewing can be distributed over a wider surface in the joint space and minimize the risk of injury. In addition, several muscles contribute to opening and closing the jaw and aid in the function of the TMJ.

What causes TMJ pain?

In most patients, pain associated with the TMJ is a result of displacement of the cartilage disc that causes pressure and stretching of the associated sensory nerves. The popping or clicking occurs when the disk snaps into place when the jaw moves. In addition, the chewing muscles may spasm, not function efficiently and cause pain and tenderness.

What causes damage to the TMJ?

  • Major and minor trauma to the jaw
  • Teeth grinding
  • Excessive gum chewing
  • Stress and other psychological factors
  • Improper bite or malpositioned jaws
  • Arthritis

What are the symptoms?

  • Ear pain
  • Sore jaw muscles
  • Temple/cheek pain
  • Jaw popping/clicking
  • Locking of the jaw
  • Difficulty in opening the mouth fully
  • Frequent head/neck aches

The pain may be sharp and searing, occurring each time you swallow, yawn, talk or chew, or it may be dull and constant. It hurts over the joint, immediately in front of the ear, but pain can also radiate elsewhere. It often causes spasms in the adjacent muscles that are attached to the bones of the skull, face and jaws. Then pain can be felt at the side of the head (the temple), the cheek, the lower jaw and the teeth.

A very common focus of pain is in the ear. Many patients come to the ear specialist quite convinced their pain is from an ear infection. When the earache is not associated with a hearing loss and the eardrum looks normal, the doctor will consider the possibility that the pain comes from TMJ.

There are a few other symptoms besides pain that TMJ can cause. It can make popping, clicking or grinding sounds when the jaws are opened wide. Or the jaw locks wide open (dislocated). At the other extreme, TMJ can prevent the jaws from opening fully. Some people get ringing in their ears from TMJ.

How is TMJ pain treated?

Because TMJ symptoms often develop in the head and neck, otolaryngologists are appropriately qualified to diagnose TMJ problems. Proper diagnosis of TMJ begins with a detailed history and physical, including careful assessment of the teeth occlusion and function of the jaw joints and muscles. An early diagnosis will likely respond to simple, self-remedies:

  • Rest the muscles and joints by eating soft foods.
  • Do not chew gum.
  • Avoid clenching or tensing.
  • Relax muscles with moist heat (1/2 hour at least twice daily).

In cases of joint injury, apply ice packs soon after the injury to reduce swelling. Relaxation techniques and stress reduction, patient education, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, muscle relaxants or other medications may also offer relief.

Other treatments for advanced cases may include fabrication of an occlusal splint to prevent wear and tear on the joint, improving the alignment of the upper and lower teeth, and surgery. After diagnosis, your otolaryngologist may suggest further consultation with your dentist and oral surgeon to facilitate effective management of TMJ pain.

© 2016 American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery

Insight into sleeping disorders and sleep apnea

Forty-five percent of normal adults snore at least occasionally and 25 percent are habitual snorers. Problem snoring is more frequent in males and overweight people and usually worsens with age. Snoring may be an indication of obstructed breathing and should not be taken lightly. An otolaryngologist can help you to determine where the anatomic source of your snoring may be, and offer solutions for this noisy and often embarrassing behavior.

What causes snoring?

The noisy sounds of snoring occur when there is an obstruction to the free flow of air through the passages at the back of the mouth and nose. This area is the collapsible part of the airway where the tongue and upper throat meet the soft palate and uvula. Snoring occurs when these structures strike each other and vibrate during breathing.

In children, snoring may be a sign of problems with the tonsils and adenoids. A chronically snoring child should be examined by an otolaryngologist, who may recommend a tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy to return the child to full health.

People who snore may suffer from:

  • Poor muscle tone in the tongue and throat: When muscles are too relaxed, the tongue falls backwards into the airway or the throat muscles draw in from the sides into the airway. Some relaxation is natural during deep sleep, but may become a problem if exacerbated by alcohol or drugs that cause sleepiness
  • Excessive bulkiness of throat tissue: Children with large tonsils and adenoids often snore. Overweight people may have excess soft tissue in the neck that can lead to airway narrowing. Cysts or tumors are rare causes of airway narrowing.
  • Long soft palate and/or uvula: A long palate narrows the opening from the nose into the throat. The excessive length of the soft palate and/or uvula acts as a noisy flutter valve during relaxed breathing.
  • Obstructed nasal airways: A stuffy or blocked nose requires extra effort to pull air through it. This creates an exaggerated vacuum in the throat that pulls together the floppy tissues of the throat, and snoring results. So snoring may only occur during the hay fever season or with a cold or sinus infection. Also, deformities of the nose or nasal septum, such as a deviated septum (a deformity of the wall that separates one nostril from the other) can cause such an obstruction.

Why is snoring serious?

Socially
Snoring can make the snorer an object of ridicule and can cause the bed partner to experience sleepless nights and fatigue.

Medically

It disturbs sleeping patterns and deprives the snorer of adequate rest. It may be a sign of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which can lead to serious, long-term health problems.

What is obstructive sleep apnea?

Snoring may be a sign of a more serious condition known as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). OSA is characterized by multiple episodes of breathing pauses greater than 10 seconds at a time, due to upper airway narrowing or collapse. This results in lower amounts of oxygen in the blood, which causes the heart to work harder. It also causes disruption of the natural sleep cycle, which makes people feel poorly rested despite adequate time in bed. Apnea patients may experience 30 to 300 such events per night.

The immediate effect of sleep apnea is that the snorer must sleep lightly and keep the throat muscles tense in order to keep airflow to the lungs. Because the snorer does not get a good rest, he or she may be sleepy during the day, which impairs job performance and makes him or her a hazardous driver or equipment operator. Untreated obstructive sleep apnea increases the risk of developing heart attacks, strokes, diabetes and many other medical problems.

How is heavy snoring evaluated?

Heavy snorers should seek medical advice to ensure that sleep apnea is not a problem. Heavy snorers include people who snore constantly in any position or who negatively impact a bed partner’s sleep. An otolaryngologist will provide a thorough examination of the nose, mouth, throat, palate and neck, often using a fiberoptic scope. An examination can reveal if the snoring is caused by nasal allergy, infection, nasal obstruction or enlargement of tonsils and adenoids. A sleep study in a laboratory or at home may be necessary to determine if snoring is due to OSA.

All snorers with any of the following symptoms should be evaluated for possible obstructive sleep apnea:

  • Witnessed episodes of breath pauses or apnea during sleep
  • Daytime sleepiness or fatigue
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • History of a stroke

What treatments are available?

Treatment depends on the diagnosis and level(s) of upper airway narrowing. In some cases, more than one area may be involved.

Snoring or OSA may respond to various treatments offered by many otolaryngologist – head and neck surgeons:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea is most often treated with a device that opens the airway with a small amount of positive pressure. This pressure is delivered via a nasal mask worn during sleep. This treatment is called CPAP; it is currently the initial treatment of choice for patients with OSA.
  • Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP) is surgery for treating snoring and obstructive sleep apnea. It removes excess soft palate tissue and opens the airway. In addition, the remaining tissue stiffens as it heals, thereby minimizing tissue vibration. The size of the air passage may be further enlarged when a tonsillectomy is added to the procedure.
  • Thermal ablation procedures reduce tissue bulk in the nasal turbinates, tongue base and/or soft palate. These procedures are used for both snoring and OSA. Different methods of thermal ablation include bipolar cautery, laser and radiofrequency. These procedures may be done in the operating room or during an office visit. Several treatments may be required.
  • Methods to increase the stiffness of the soft palate without removing tissue include injecting an irritating substance that causes stiffness in the injected area near the uvula. Another method is inserting stiffening rods (Pillar implants) into the soft palate.
  • Genioglossus and hyoid advancement is a surgical procedure for the treatment of sleep apnea. It prevents collapse of the lower throat and pulls the tongue muscles forward, thereby opening the obstructed airway.
  • A custom-fit oral appliance, which repositions the lower jaw forward, may also be considered for certain patients with snoring/ OSA. This should be fitted by an otolaryngologist, dentist or oral surgeon with expertise in sleep dentistry.
  • In some patients, significant weight loss can also improve snoring and OSA.

Do you recommend the use of over-the-counter devices?

There is no specific device recommended. More than 300 devices are registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office as cures for snoring. Different methods include products that help a person avoid sleeping on their back, since snoring is often worse in that position. Some devices open nasal air passages; others have been designed to condition a person not to snore by producing unpleasant stimuli when snoring occurs. While a person may find a product that works for him or her, underlying poor sleep quality may remain.

Self-help for the light snorer

Adults who suffer from mild or occasional snoring should try the following self-help remedies:

  • Adopt a healthy and athletic lifestyle to develop good muscle tone and lose weight.
  • Avoid tranquilizers, sleeping pills and antihistamines before bedtime.
  • Avoid alcohol for at least four hours and heavy meals or snacks for three hours before retiring.
  • Establish regular sleeping patterns.
  • Sleep on your side rather than your back.
  • Elevate the head of your bed four inches.

© 2016 American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery

Glands in your nose and throat continually produce mucus (one to two quarts a day). Mucus moistens and cleans the nasal membranes, humidifies air, traps and clears inhaled foreign matter and fights infection. Although it is normally swallowed unconsciously, the feeling of it accumulating in the throat or dripping from the back of your nose is called post-nasal drip. This sensation can be caused by excessively thick secretions or by throat muscle and swallowing disorders.

What causes abnormal secretions?

Thin secretions:

Increased thin clear secretions can be due to colds and flu, allergies, cold temperatures, bright lights, certain foods/spices, pregnancy and other hormonal changes. Various drugs (including birth control pills and high blood pressure medications) and structural abnormalities can also produce increased secretions. These abnormalities might include a deviated or irregular nasal septum (the cartilage and bony dividing wall that separates the two nostrils).

Thick secretions:

Increased thick secretions in the winter often result from dryness in heated buildings and homes. They can also result from sinus or nose infections and allergies, especially to foods such as dairy products. If thin secretions become thick and turn green or yellow, it is likely that a bacterial sinus infection is developing. In children, thick secretions from one side of the nose can mean that something is stuck in the nose such as a bean, wadded paper or piece of toy. If these symptoms are observed, seek a physician for examination.

How is swallowing affected?

Swallowing problems may result in accumulation of solids or liquids in the throat that may complicate or feel like post-nasal drip. When the nerves and muscles in the mouth, throat and food passage (esophagus) aren’t interacting properly, overflow secretions can spill into the voice box (larynx) and breathing passages (trachea and bronchi), causing hoarseness, throat clearing or coughing.

Several factors contribute to swallowing problems:

  • With age, swallowing muscles often lose strength and coordination, making it difficult for even normal secretions to pass smoothly into the stomach.
  • During sleep, swallowing occurs much less frequently and secretions may gather. Coughing and vigorous throat clearing are often needed upon waking.
  • When nervous or under stress, throat muscles can trigger spasms that make it feel as if there is a lump in the throat. Frequent throat clearing, which usually produces little or no mucus, can make the problem worse by increasing irritation.
  • Growths or swelling in the food passage can slow or prevent the movement of liquids and/or solids.

Swallowing problems may also be caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This is when a backup of stomach contents and acid gets into the esophagus or throat. Heartburn, indigestion and sore throat are common symptoms. GERD may be aggravated by lying down, especially following eating. Hiatal hernia, a pouch-like tissue mass where the esophagus meets the stomach, often contributes to the reflux.

How is the throat affected?

Post-nasal drip often leads to a sore, irritated throat. Although there is usually no infection, the tonsils and other tissues in the throat may swell. This can cause discomfort or a feeling that there is a lump in the throat. Successful treatment of the post-nasal drip will usually clear up these throat symptoms.

How is it treated?

A correct diagnosis requires a detailed ear, nose and throat exam, and possibly laboratory, endoscopic (procedures that use a tube to look inside the body) and x-ray studies. Treatment varies according to the following causes:

  • Bacterial infections are treated with antibiotics. These drugs may only provide temporary relief. In cases of chronic sinusitis, surgery to open the blocked sinuses may be required.
  • Allergies are managed by avoiding the causes. Antihistamines and decongestants, cromolyn and steroid (cortisone type) nasal sprays and other forms of steroids may offer relief. Immunotherapy, either by shots or sublingual (under the tongue drops) may also be helpful. However, some older, sedating antihistamines may dry and thicken post-nasal secretions even more; newer non-sedating antihistamines, available by prescription only, do not have this effect. Decongestants can aggravate high blood pressure, heart, and thyroid disease. Steroid sprays may be used safely under medical supervision. Oral and injectable steroids rarely produce serious complications in short-term use. Because significant side-effects can occur, steroids must be monitored carefully when used for more than one week.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux is treated by elevating the head of the bed six to eight inches, avoiding foods and beverages for two to three hours before bedtime, and eliminating alcohol and caffeine from the daily diet. Antacids such as Maalox®, Mylanta®, Gaviscon®, and drugs that block stomach acid production such as Zantac®, Tagamet® or Pepcid® may be prescribed. If these are not successful, stronger medications can be prescribed. Trial treatments are usually suggested before x-rays and other diagnostic studies are performed.

General measures that allow mucus secretions to pass more easily may be recommended when it is not possible to determine the cause. Many people, especially older persons, need more fluids to thin out secretions. Drinking more water, eliminating caffeine, and avoiding diuretics (medications that increase urination) will help. Mucous-thinning agents such as guaifenesin (Humibid®, Robitussin®) may also thin secretions. Nasal irrigations may alleviate thickened secretions. These can be performed two to four times a day either with a nasal douche device or a Water Pik® with a nasal irrigation nozzle. Warm water with baking soda or salt (½ to 1 tsp. to the pint) or Alkalol®, a nonprescription irrigating solution (full strength or diluted by half warm water), may be helpful. Finally, use of simple saline (salt) nonprescription nasal sprays (e.g., Ocean®, Ayr®, or Nasal®) to moisten the nose is often very beneficial.

Sinus Conditions

Sinuses are air-filled cavities in the skull. They drain into the nose through small openings. Blockages in the openings from swelling due to colds, flu or allergies may lead to acute sinus infection. A viral cold that persists for 10 days or more may have become a bacterial sinus infection. This infection may increase post-nasal drip. If you suspect that you have a sinus infection, you should see your physician to see if it needs antibiotic treatment.

Chronic sinusitis occurs when sinus blockages persist, causing the lining of the sinuses to swell further. Polyps (growths in the nose) may develop with chronic sinusitis. Patients with polyps tend to have irritating, persistent post-nasal drip. Evaluation by an otolaryngologist may include an exam of the interior of the nose with a fiberoptic scope and CAT scan x-rays. If medication does not relieve the problem, surgery may be recommended.

Vasomotor Rhinitis describes a nonallergic “hyperirritable nose” that feels congested, blocked or wet.

© 2016 American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery

The nose is an area of the body that contains many tiny blood vessels (or arterioles) that can break easily. In the United States, one of every seven people will develop a nosebleed some time in their lifetime. Nosebleeds can occur at any age but are most common in children aged 2-10 years and adults aged 50-80 years. Nosebleeds are divided into two types, depending on whether the bleeding is coming from the front or back of the nose.

What is an anterior nosebleed?

Most nosebleeds (or epistaxes) begin in the lower part of the septum, the semi-rigid wall that separates the two nostrils of the nose. The septum contains blood vessels that can be broken by a blow to the nose or the edge of a sharp fingernail. Nosebleeds coming from the front of the nose, (anterior nosebleeds) often begin with a flow of blood out one nostril when the patient is sitting or standing.

Anterior nosebleeds are common in dry climates or during the winter months when dry, heated indoor air dehydrates the nasal membranes. Dryness may result in crusting, cracking and bleeding. This can be prevented by placing a light coating of petroleum jelly or an antibiotic ointment on the end of a fingertip and then rubbing it inside the nose, especially on the middle portion of the nose (the septum).

How do I stop an anterior nosebleed?

  • Stay calm, or help a young child stay calm. A person who is agitated may bleed more profusely than someone who’s been reassured and supported.
  • Keep head higher than the level of the heart. Sit up.
  • Lean slightly forward so the blood won’t drain in the back of the throat.
  • Gently blow any clotted blood out of the nose. Spray a nasal decongestant in the nose.
  • Using the thumb and index finger, pinch all the soft parts of the nose. Do not pack the inside of the nose with gauze or cotton.
  • Hold the position for five minutes. If it’s still bleeding, hold it again for an additional 10 minutes.

What is a posterior nosebleed?

More rarely, a nosebleed can begin high and deep within the nose and flow down the back of the mouth and throat, even if the patient is sitting or standing.

Obviously, when lying down, even anterior (front of nasal cavity) nosebleeds may seem to flow toward the back of the throat, especially if coughing or blowing the nose. It is important to try to make the distinction between the anterior and posterior nosebleed, since posterior nosebleeds are often more severe and almost always require a physician’s care. Posterior nosebleeds are more likely to occur in older people, persons with high blood pressure, and in cases of injury to the nose or face.

What are the causes of recurring nosebleeds?

  • Allergies, infections or dryness that cause itching and lead to picking of the nose.
  • Vigorous nose-blowing that ruptures superficial blood vessels.
  • Clotting disorders that run in families or are due to medications.
  • Drugs (such as anticoagulants or anti-inflammatories).
  • Fractures of the nose or the base of the skull. Head injuries that cause nosebleeds should be regarded seriously.
  • Hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia, a disorder involving a blood vessel growth similar to a birthmark in the back of the nose.
  • Tumors, both malignant and nonmalignant, have to be considered, particularly in the older patient or in smokers.

When should an otolaryngologist be consulted?

If frequent nosebleeds are a problem, it is important to consult an otolaryngologist. An ear, nose and throat specialist will carefully examine the nose using an endoscope, a tube with a light for seeing inside the nose, prior to making a treatment recommendation. Two of the most common treatments are cautery and packing the nose. Cautery is a technique in which the blood vessel is burned with an electric current, silver nitrate or a laser. Sometimes, a doctor may just pack the nose with a special gauze or an inflatable latex balloon to put pressure on the blood vessel.

Tips to prevent a nosebleed

  • Keep the lining of the nose moist by gently applying a light coating of petroleum jelly or an antibiotic ointment with a cotton swab three times daily, including at bedtime. Commonly used products include Bacitracin® A and D Ointment, Eucerin®, Polysporin® and Vaseline®.
  • Keep children’s fingernails short to discourage nose-picking.
  • Counteract the effects of dry air by using a humidifier.
  • Use a saline nasal spray to moisten dry nasal membranes.
  • Quit smoking. Smoking dries out the nose and irritates it.

Tips to prevent rebleeding after initial bleeding has stopped

  • Do not pick or blow nose.
  • Do not strain or bend down to lift anything heavy.
  • Keep head higher than the heart.

If rebleeding occurs:

  • Attempt to clear nose of all blood clots.
  • Spray nose four times in the bleeding nostril(s) with a decongestant spray.
  • Repeat the steps to stop an anterior nosebleed.
  • Call a doctor if bleeding persists after 30 minutes or if nosebleed occurs after an injury to the head.

© 2016 American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery

Projecting prominently from the central part of the face, it is no surprise that the nose is the most commonly broken bone on the head. A broken nose (nasal fracture) can significantly alter your appearance. It can also make it much harder to breathe through the nose.

What is a nasal fracture?

Getting struck on the nose, whether by another person, a door or the floor is not pleasant. Your nose will hurt – usually a lot. You’ll likely have a nose bleed and soon find it difficult to breathe through your nose. Swelling develops both inside and outside the nose, and you may get dark bruises around your eyes (“black eyes”).

Nasal fractures can affect both bone and cartilage. A collection of blood (called a “septal hematoma”) can sometimes form on the nasal septum (a wall made of bone and cartilage inside the nose that separates the sides of the nose).

What causes a nasal fracture?

Nasal fractures, or broken noses, result from facial injuries in contact sports or falls. Injuries affecting the teeth and mouth may also affect the nose.

How can I prevent a broken nose?

  • Wear protective gear to shield your face when participating in contact sports
  • Avoid fist fights

When should I see a doctor?

If you’ve been struck in the nose, it’s important to see a physician to check for septal hematoma. Seeing your primary doctor or an emergency room physician is usually adequate to determine if you have a septal hematoma or other associated problems from your accident. If a septal hematoma is present, it must be treated promptly to prevent worse problems from developing in the nose. If you suspect your nose may be broken, see an otolaryngologist – head and neck surgeon within one week of the injury. If you are seen within one to two weeks, it may be possible to repair your nose immediately. If you wait longer than two weeks (one week for children) you will likely need to wait several months before your nose can be surgically straightened and fixed.

If left untreated, a broken nose can leave you with an undesirable appearance as well as permanent difficulty in trying to breathe.

How will my doctor determine if I have a broken nose?

Your doctor will ask you several questions and will examine your nose and face. You will be asked to explain how the fracture occurred, the state of your general health, and how your nose looked before the injury. The doctor will examine not only your nose, but also the surrounding areas including your eyes, jaw and teeth, and will look for bruising, lacerations and swelling.

Sometimes your physician will recommend an x-ray or computed tomography (CT) scan. These can help to identify other facial fractures but are not always helpful in determining if you have a broken nose. The best way to determine that your nose is broken is if it looks very different or is harder to breathe through.

What are my treatment options?

If your nose is broken but not out of position, you may need no treatment other than rest and being careful not to bump your nose.

If your nose is broken so badly that it needs to be repositioned, you have several options. You can have your nose repaired in the office in some situations. Your doctor can give you some local anesthesia, reposition the broken bones into place, and then hold them in the right location with a “cast” made of plastic, plaster or metal. This cast will then stay in place for a week. In the first two weeks after the injury, your doctor may offer you this kind of repair, or a similar approach using general anesthesia in the operating room.

What if I need surgery?

If more than two weeks have passed since the time of your injury, you may need to wait a while before having your nose straightened surgically. It may be necessary to wait two to three months before a good repair can be done, by which time there will be less swelling and your nose will have begun to heal. Reduced swelling will allow the surgeon to get a more accurate picture of how your nose originally looked. This type of surgery is considered reconstructive plastic surgery, as its goal is to restore your appearance to the way it was prior to injury. If your repair is done within two weeks of the injury, restoring prior appearance is the only possible goal. If you have waited several months for the repair, it is often possible to change the appearance of your nose as you desire. Should you be interested in this kind of appearance change as well as repair, you can feel confident that your otolaryngologist is a specialist in all surgery of the nose. No other specialty has more training in surgery on the nose, and some otolaryngologists focus exclusively on plastic surgery of the face.

© 2016 American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery

Oral lesions (mouth sores) make it painful to eat and talk. Two of the most common recurrent oral lesions are fever blisters (also known as cold sores) and canker sores. Though similar, fever blisters and canker sores have important differences.

What are fever blisters?

Fever blisters are fluid-filled blisters that commonly occur on the lips. They also can occur on the gums and roof of the mouth (hard palate), but this is rare. Fever blisters are usually painful; pain may precede the appearance of the lesion by a few days. The blisters rupture within hours, then crust over. They last about seven to ten days.

Why do fever blisters reoccur?

Fever blisters result from a herpes simplex virus that becomes active. This virus is latent (dormant) in afflicted people, but can be activated by conditions such as stress, fever, trauma, hormonal changes and exposure to sunlight. When lesions reappear, they tend to form in the same location.

Are fever blisters contagious?

Yes, the time from blister rupture until the sore is completely healed is the time of greatest risk for spread of infection. The virus can spread to the afflicted person’s eyes and genitalia, as well as to other people.

How are fever blisters treated?

Treatment consists of coating the lesions with a protective barrier ointment containing an antiviral agent, for example 5% acyclovir ointment. While there is no cure now, scientists are trying to develop one, so hopefully fever blisters will be a curable disorder in the future.

Tips to prevent spreading fever blisters

  • Avoid mucous membrane contact when a lesion is present.
  • Do not squeeze, pinch or pick the blisters.
  • Wash hands carefully before touching eyes, genital area or another person.

Note: Despite all caution, it is possible to transmit herpes virus even when no blisters are present.

What are canker sores?

Canker sores (also called aphthous ulcers) are different than fever blisters. They are small, red or white shallow ulcers occurring on the tongue, soft palate or inside the lips and cheeks; they do not occur in the roof of the mouth or the gums. They are quite painful, and usually last 5-10 days.

Who is most likely to get canker sores, and what causes them?

Eighty percent of the U.S. population between the ages of 10 to 20, most often women, get canker sores. The best available evidence suggests that canker sores result from an altered local immune response associated with stress, trauma or irritation. Acidic foods (e.g., tomatoes, citrus fruits and some nuts) are known to cause irritation in some patients.

Are canker sores contagious? How are they treated?

Because they are not caused by bacteria or viral agents, they are not contagious and cannot be spread locally or to anyone else. Treatment is directed toward relieving discomfort and guarding against infection. A topical corticosteroid preparation such as triamcinolone dental paste (Kenalog in Orabase 0.1%®) is helpful.

When should a physician be consulted?

Consider consulting a physician if a mouth sore has not healed within two weeks. Mouth sores offer an easy way for germs and viruses to get into the body, so it is easy for infections to develop.
People who consume alcohol, smokers, smokeless tobacco users, chemotherapy or radiation patients, bone marrow or stem cell recipients, or patients with weak immune systems should also consider having regular oral screenings by a physician. The first sign of oral cancer is a mouth sore that does not heal.

What kind of screenings are performed?

The physician will most likely examine the head, face, neck, lips, gums and high-risk areas inside the mouth, such as the floor of the mouth, the area under the tongue, the front and sides of the tongue, and the roof of the mouth or soft palate. If a suspicious lesion is found, the physician may recommend collecting and testing soft tissue from the oral cavity.

What are other types of oral lesions to be concerned about?

Leukoplakia
A thick, whitish-color patch that forms on the inside of the cheeks, gums or tongue. These patches are caused by excess cell growth and are common among tobacco users. They can result from irritations such as ill-fitting dentures or the habit of chewing on the inside of the cheek. Leukoplakia can progress to cancer.

Candidiasis
A fungal infection (also called moniliasis or oral thrush) that occurs when yeast reproduce in large numbers. It is common among denture wearers and most often occurs in people who are very young, elderly, debilitated by disease, or who have a problem with their immune system. People who have dry mouth syndrome are very susceptible to candidiasis. Candida may flourish after antibiotic treatment, which can decrease normal bacteria in the mouth.

Hairy tongue
A relatively rare condition caused by the elongation of the taste buds. It can be caused by poor oral hygiene, chronic oral irritation or smoking.

Torus palatinus
A hard bony growth in the center of the roof of the mouth (palate). It commonly occurs in females over the age of 30 and rarely needs treatment. A torus palatinus is often seen in patients who suffer from tooth grinding. Occasionally it is removed for the proper fitting of dentures.

Oral cancer
It may appear as a white or red patch of tissue in the mouth, or a small ulcer that looks like a common canker sore. Other than the lips, the most common areas for oral cancer to develop are on the tongue and the floor of the mouth. Other symptoms include a lump or mass that can be felt inside the mouth or neck, pain or difficulty in swallowing, speaking or chewing, any wart-like mass, hoarseness that lasts for more than two weeks, or any numbness in the oral/facial region.

Tips to prevent mouth sores

  • Stop smoking.
  • Reduce stress.
  • Avoid injury to the mouth caused by hard tooth brushing, hard
  • foods, braces or dentures.
  • Chew slowly.
  • Practice good dental hygiene, including regular visits to the dentist.Eat a well-balanced diet.
  • Identify and eliminate food sensitivities.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Avoid very hot food or beverages.
  • Follow nutritional guidelines for multivitamin supplements.

© 2016 American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery

Most of us think of tongue-tie as a situation we find ourselves in when we are too excited to speak. Actually, tongue-tie is the non-medical term for a relatively common physical condition that limits the use of the tongue, ankyloglossia.

Before we are born, a strong cord of tissue that guides development of mouth structures is positioned in the center of the mouth. It is called a frenulum. After birth, the lingual frenulum continues to guide the position of incoming teeth. As we grow, it recedes and thins. This frenulum is visible and easily felt if you look in the mirror under your tongue. In some children, the frenulum is especially tight or fails to recede and may cause tongue mobility problems.

The tongue is one of the most important muscles for speech and swallowing. For this reason having tongue-tie can lead to eating or speech problems, which may be serious in some individuals.

When Is Tongue-tie a Problem That Needs Treatment?

In Infants

Feeding

A new baby with a too-tight frenulum can have trouble sucking and may have poor weight gain. Such feeding problems should be discussed with your child’s pediatrician, who may refer you to an otolaryngologist – head and neck surgeon (ear, nose and throat specialist) for additional treatment.
NOTE: Nursing mothers who experience significant pain while nursing or whose baby has trouble latching on should have their child evaluated for tongue-tie. Although it is often overlooked, tongue-tie can be an underlying cause of feeding problems that not only affect a child’s weight gain, but lead many mothers to abandon breast feeding altogether.

In Toddlers and Older Children

Speech
While the tongue is remarkably able to compensate and many children have no speech impediments due to tongue-tie, others may. Around the age of three, speech problems, especially articulation of the sounds – l, r, t, d, n, th, sh and z may be noticeable. Evaluation may be needed if more than half of a three-year-old child’s speech is not understood outside of the family circle. Although there is no obvious way to tell in infancy which children with ankyloglossia will have speech difficulties later, the following associated characteristics are common:

  • V-shaped notch at the tip of the tongue
  • Inability to stick out the tongue past the upper gums
  • Inability to touch the roof of the mouth
  • Difficulty moving the tongue from side to side

As a simple test, caregivers or parents might ask themselves if the child can lick an ice cream cone or lollipop without much difficulty. If the answer is no, they cannot, then it may be time to consult a physician.

Appearance – For older children with tongue-tie, appearance can be affected by persistent dental problems such as a gap between the bottom two front teeth. Your child’s physician can guide you in the diagnosis and treatment of tongue-tie. If he/she recommends surgery, an otolaryngologist – head and neck surgeon (ear, nose and throat specialist), can perform a surgical procedure called a frenulectomy.

Tongue-tie Surgery Considerations

Tongue-tie surgery is a simple procedure and there are normally no complications. For very young infants (less than six-weeks-old), it may be done in the office of the physician. General anesthesia may be recommended when frenulectomy is performed on older children. But in some cases, it can be done in the physician’s office under local anesthesia. While frenulectomy is relatively simple, it can yield big results. Parents should consider that this surgery often yields more benefit than is obvious by restoring ease of speech and self-esteem.

© 2016 American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery

Nasal congestion, stuffiness or obstruction to nasal breathing is one of the oldest and most common human complaints. For some, it may only be a nuisance; for others, nasal congestion can be a source of considerable discomfort.

Medical writers have established four main causes of nasal obstruction: infection, structural abnormalities, allergic and nonallercic (vasomotor) rhinitis. Patients often have a combination of these factors which vary from person to person.

What are the causes of nasal congestion?

Infection

An average adult suffers a “common cold” two to three times per year. These viral infections occur more often in childhood because immunity strengthens with age. A cold is caused by one of many different viruses, some of which are airborne, but most are transmitted by hand-to-nose contact. Once the virus is absorbed by the nose, it causes the body to release histamine, a chemical which dramatically increases blood flow to the nose and causes nasal tissue to swell. This inflames the nasal membranes which become congested with blood and produce excessive amounts of mucus that “stuffs up” the nasal airway. Antihistamines and decongestants help relieve the symptoms of a cold, but no medication can cure it. Ultimately, time is what is needed to get rid of the infection.

During a viral infection, the nose has poor resistance to bacteria, which is why infections of the nose and sinuses often follow a “cold”. When the nasal mucus turns from clear to yellow or green, it usually means that a bacterial infection has set in. In this case, a physician should be consulted.

Acute sinus infections produce nasal congestion and thick discharge. Pain may occur in cheeks and upper teeth, between and behind the eyes, or above the eyes and in the forehead, depending on which sinuses are involved.

Chronic sinus infections may or may not cause pain, but usually involve nasal obstruction and offensive nasal or postnasal discharge. Some people develop polyps (fleshy growths in the nose) from sinus infections, and the infection can spread to the lower airways, leading to a chronic cough, bronchitis or asthma. Acute sinus infections generally respond to antibiotic treatment; chronic sinusitis may require surgery.

Structural abnormalities

These include deformities of the nose and nasal septum – the thin, flat cartilage and bone that divides the two sides of the nose and nostrils. These deformities are usually the result of an injury, sometimes having occurred in childhood. Seven percent of newborn babies suffer significant nasal injury in the birth process. Nasal injuries are common in both children and adults. If they obstruct breathing, surgical correction may be helpful.
One of the most common causes of nasal obstruction in children is enlargement of the adenoids. These are a tonsil-like tissue located in the back of the nose, behind the palate. Children with this problem may experience noisy breathing at night and may snore. Children who are chronic mouth breathers may develop a sagging face and dental deformities. In this case, surgery to remove the adenoids and/or tonsils may be advisable.
Other causes in this category include nasal tumors and foreign bodies. Children are often known to insert small objects into their noses. If a foul-smelling discharge is observed draining from one nostril, a physician should be consulted.

Allergies

Hay fever, rose fever, grass fever and summertime colds are various names for allergic rhinitis. Allergy is an exaggerated inflammatory response to a substance which, in the case of a stuffy nose, is usually pollen, mold, animal dander or some element in house dust. Pollen may cause problems during spring, summer and fall, whereas house dust allergies are often most evident in the winter. Molds may cause symptoms year-round. In the allergic patient, the release of histamine and similar substances results in congestion and excess production of watery nasal mucus. Antihistamines help relieve the sneezing and runny nose of allergy. Typical antihistamines include Benadryl®, Chlortrimetron®, Claritin®, Teldrin®, Dimetane®, Hismanal®, Nolahist®, PBZ®, Polaramine®, Seldane®, Tavist®, Zyrtec®, Allegra®, and Alavert®, which are often available without a prescription and are available in several generic forms. Combinations of antihistamines with decongestants are also available.

Allergy shots are a specific and successful treatment method. SLIT skin tests and sometimes blood tests are used to make up vials of allergy-inducing substances specific to an individual patient’s profile. The physician determines the best concentration for the first treatment. Once injected, these treatments form blocking antibodies in the patient’s blood stream that interfere with the allergic reaction. Injections are typically given for a period of three to five years. Patients with allergies are more likely to need treatment for sinus infections.

Vasomotor Rhinitis

“Rhinitis” means inflammation of the nose and nasal membranes. “Vasomotor” means pertaining to the nerves that control the blood vessels. Membranes in the nose have an abundant supply of arteries, veins and capillaries, which have the ability to expand and constrict. Normally these blood vessels are in a half-constricted or half-open state. But when a person exercises vigorously, hormone (adrenaline) levels increase. Adrenaline causes constriction of the nasal membranes so that the air passages open up and the person breathes freely.

The opposite takes place when an allergic attack or a cold develops. During a cold, blood vessels expand, membranes become congested, and the nose becomes stuffy or blocked.

In addition to allergies and infections, certain circumstances can cause nasal blood vessels to expand, leading to vasomotor rhinitis. These include psychological stress, inadequate thyroid function, pregnancy, certain anti-high blood pressure drugs, prolonged overuse of decongesting nasal sprays, and exposure to irritants such as perfumes and tobacco smoke.

In the early stages of these disorders, nasal stuffiness is temporary and reversible. It usually improves when the primary cause is corrected. However, if the condition persists, the blood vessels lose their capacity to constrict, much like varicose veins. When the patient lies down on one side, the lower side becomes congested, which interferes with sleep. It is helpful to sleep with the head of the bed elevated two to four inches. Surgery is another option that can provide dramatic and long-time relief.

Are there any risks when treating congestion?

Patients who get sleepy from antihistamines should not drive an automobile or operate dangerous equipment after taking them. Decongestants increase pulse rate and elevate blood pressure and therefore should be avoided by those with high blood pressure, irregular heart beat, glaucoma or difficulty urinating.
Pregnant patients should consult their obstetricians before taking any medicine.

Cortisone-like drugs (corticosteriods) are powerful decongestants, administered as nasal sprays to minimize the risk of serious side effects associated with other dosage forms. Patients using steroid nasal sprays should follow instructions carefully, and consult a physician immediately if they develop nasal bleeding, crusting, pain or vision changes.

© 2016 American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery