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Published on October 23, 2015

Those stuffed sinuses could be wrecking your sleepThose stuffed sinuses could be wrecking your sleep

Struggling to breathe? Not getting a good night’s sleep?

There are numerous causes of these conditions, but a new study suggests that chronically stuffed sinuses could be the culprit. They also may be connected to apnea, which can be deadly if not properly treated.

“Poor sleep, feeling tired and fatigue are all frequent complaints of patients with chronic sinus disease,” wrote study author Jeremiah Alt, MD, an ear, nose and throat surgeon at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

The study’s researchers interviewed more than 400 patients who underwent sinus surgery. About 60 of those also had apnea. Following surgery, the patients had improved on several measures, including psychological and sleep problems. They reported better quality of life and improved sleep, regardless of whether or not they had a sleep disorder, according to the September study, published online in JAMA Otolaryngology­‑Head & Neck Surgery.

Nicholas Vandemoer, MD, an ear, nose and throat specialist at Cape Cod Hospital, said that sinus and nasal problems often are associated with snoring and sometimes sleep apnea among many of his patients.

During sleep, the body naturally tries to breathe through the nose. But, when nasal congestion forces you to breathe through your mouth, pressure develops behind the uvula and soft palate, Dr. Vandemoer explained. This pressure increases vibrations during sleep and helps create snoring.

In more severe cases, apnea will cause people to stop breathing for short periods of time throughout the night. The tongue and other structures can relax a little too much, close off the airway and prevent breathing.

While agreeing with the Utah study’s conclusion, Dr. Vandemoer stressed that surgery should only be considered after other treatments, including medication, are prescribed. Learn more about medications and sinus problems.

In some cases, sleep disorders may also be associated with other conditions and behaviors that should be addressed first, Dr. Vandemoer said. These include being overweight, lack of exercise, alcohol consumption, smoking and taking sedatives. Some patients have sleep issues because they sleep on their backs or don’t raise their heads enough with a pillow, he said.

Eventually, if drugs are not effective and surgery is recommended, Dr. Vandemoer prefers non-invasive balloon sinuplasty, if feasible.

During sinuplasty, a balloon is inflated to restructure and widen the walls of the sinus passageway while maintaining the integrity of the sinus lining. The procedure is less invasive than traditional sinus surgery and does not include removal of bone or tissue from the nose, he said.

Sinusplasty has proven to be effective and sustainable, Dr. Vandemoer said. Today, about six out of every 10 surgeries he performs are non-invasive.