Answers to commonly asked ENT questions
For the benefit of our patients, we are providing a list of the most frequently asked questions. If you do not see the answer to your question, please call our office at (773) 296-5500.
Snoring and sleep apnea
What is snoring?
Snoring is a common disorder that occurs when a sleeping person breathes and tissues in the back of the throat vibrate. Often, the snoring sound is produced by vibrations of the soft palate, which is located in the tissue in the back of the mouth. Sometimes snoring sounds can be produced by the tongue base moving during sleep. Snoring implies that there is a partial obstruction of the airflow during sleep.
Is snoring serious?
Snoring is not always serious, but it is never normal. When one snores, it indicates that there is some obstruction of airflow during sleep. When snoring is extremely mild, it often doesn’t require treatment, but it does require further assessment to determine if it is potentially serious. It is important to note that the mildness of the snoring does not always correlate with the severity of the airway obstruction.
I am told and then I snore heavily and sometimes stop breathing in my sleep. Is this serious?
A clear indication of obstructive sleep apnea occurs when a patient stops breathing in their sleep. In some patients, this apnea sounds like somebody who is just catching their breath after a snore. When one observes sleep apnea or the sounds of catching one’s breath during sleep, it is always potentially serious. As with any other medical problem, early diagnosis leads to early correction and, in most cases, a simpler solution.
How is primary snoring different from sleep apnea?
In primary snoring, oxygen levels are maintained at a normal level and there is not significant airway obstruction. In addition, the obstruction is not enough to cause arousal and sleep are not disrupted. In sleep apnea, there is partial obstruction of airflow that causes oxygen levels to drop.
I sleep like a log. Does that mean that I cannot have sleep apnea?
Absolutely not. In fact, most people that have sleep apnea sleep like a log. Sleep apnea causes sleep disruptions that are not detected by the patient. Patients who have sleep apnea often feel sleep-deprived in the sense that their sleep is not refreshing. Ironically, they are considered “good sleepers.” Typically they will hit the pillow, fall asleep, and remain asleep through any type of noise. Despite this, they often wake up feeling not refreshed.
What is sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea is a disorder in which a person has obstructed airflow during sleep. The obstructed airflow causes damage because oxygen levels drop during the disrupted breathing. This drop-in oxygen level causes a change in the pulse and blood pressure, which causes damage to the cardiovascular system and may cause disrupted sleep that is not detected by the patient. Sometimes, sleep apnea occurs without snoring.
What are the most common symptoms of sleep apnea?
The most common symptoms of sleep apnea include snoring, daytime fatigue, and weight gain. In addition, sleep apnea often causes mood changes, irritability, and depression. Sleep apnea may result in hypertension and heart disease. Sexual dysfunction is also a common side effect of sleep apnea.
In it true that the only treatment for sleep apnea is a CPAP device or radical surgery?
Absolutely not. In fact, the vast majority of patients that have mild or moderate obstructive sleep apnea can be treated without CPAP or invasive surgery. While CPAP is an excellent form of treatment for some patients with severe sleep apnea, the vast majority of patients with mild or moderate cases cannot or will not accept CPAP as a way of life. Most of these patients can be treated with outpatient non-invasive or minimally invasive techniques, including dental oral appliances, improvement in the nasal airway, stiffening of the palate, and nonsurgical treatment to shrink the tissues of the tongue base. In addition, we sometimes recommend a new product called Provent, which provides continuous airway pressure without using a machine.
Snoring doesn’t bother me. It bothers my bed partner. Can I ignore it?
Absolutely not. Snoring is a problem for both the snorer and the bed partner. In a study conducted on bed partners of snorers, we determined that the average bed partner loses 25% of their sleep due to their partner’s snoring. This sleep loss is extremely disruptive to a relationship because the snorer is not refreshed and neither is their bed partner.
What is the Pillar Procedure™?
The Pillar Procedure™ is a minimally invasive technique to stiffen the palate. It is done with a simple injection into the soft palate with local anesthesia. When combined with the correction of nasal obstruction and tongue base obstruction, it is an extremely effective way to treat snoring and sleep apnea.
What happens if sleep apnea is left untreated?
The long-term effects of untreated sleep apnea include weight gain, fatigue, irritability, depression, sexual dysfunction, hypertension, and heart disease.
Does sleep apnea only affect middle-aged overweight men?
No. Although sleep apnea is more common in middle-aged men, it does occur in young men who are not overweight. The main factor that can lead to sleep apnea is the genetically determined shape of the throat. In fact, sleep apnea also occurs in children, young people, and middle-aged and older men and women.
Does sleep apnea affect women?
Yes; however, the symptoms of sleep apnea in women are often different than those found in men. Though women often do not snore, when it occurs it is mild. However, sleep apnea in women often results in mood changes and depression.
Does sleep apnea cause weight gain?
Yes. Because sleep apnea affects insulin metabolism, sleep apnea can cause weight gain and also be the result of weight gain. Sleep apnea contributes to weight gain as it causes fatigue which results in reduced physical activity. The weight gain then aggravates the sleep apnea and the cycle continues.
Can children have sleep apnea?
Yes. Sleep apnea is extremely common in children. In fact, sleep apnea in children often results in poor school performance. The large percentage of patients who have attention deficit disorder have undiagnosed sleep apnea. Hyperactivity and attention deficit disorder can often be corrected just by eliminating sleep apnea.
How is sleep apnea treated in children?
Sleep apnea in children is treated by removing the tonsils and adenoids through nonsurgical techniques utilizing radiofrequency.
Will insurance cover my snoring treatment?
Yes. Snoring is almost always associated with some mild form of obstructive sleep apnea or upper airway resistance syndrome. Therefore, with proper testing, your insurance will cover the cost of medically necessary treatment for snoring and upper airway resistance syndrome.
Thyroid & parathyroid
What are the symptoms of hyperparathyroidism?
Hyperparathyroidism affects every system in the body. Common symptoms include fatigue, mood changes, irritability, depression and even memory loss. Generalized symptoms of ill health are also very common with hyperparathyroidism.
My calcium levels have been elevated. Does this mean that I need to have my parathyroid gland removed?
Elevated calcium levels are never normal. Although there can be many reasons for elevated calcium levels, the most common is primary hyperparathyroidism, though the symptoms are vague and often go unnoticed. If left untreated, hyperparathyroidism can cause osteopenia, osteoporosis, and a generalized feeling of malaise and fatigue. In most situations, we can correct these problems with a minimally invasive, simple procedure.
What is minimally-invasive parathyroid surgery?
This is a surgical technique to remove the abnormal gland under local or general anesthesia. In most cases, this procedure is done through a very small incision that is camouflaged and results in minimal to no scarring. In some cases, it can also be done with robotic assistance without any neck incision. At Chicago ENT, the procedure is simple and requires approximately 15 minutes to remove the abnormal gland.
I was told that I have a thyroid nodule. Must this be removed?
No. Most thyroid nodules do not need to be removed; however, all thyroid nodules should be biopsied to help rule out other factors. The biopsies are done with a technique known as fine-needle aspiration, a simple blood test. The results of this test will determine if the nodule has to be removed.
What is minimally-invasive thyroid surgery?
Minimally invasive thyroid surgery is done to avoid scarring. Incisions are camouflaged into natural skin creases and are therefore minimized. Plus, the minimally-invasive technique allows for faster recovery. Typically, this technique also involves new technology that protects the important superior and recurrent laryngeal nerves near the gland. It can be performed as an outpatient or inpatient with local or general anesthesia.
What is robotic surgery for thyroid nodules?
Robotic surgery is available for select patients who want to avoid any incision on the neck. It is a relatively new technique that is among the leading-edge surgical options we offer at ChicagoENT.\
What is asthma?
Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease of the lungs in which the airways narrow. This usually occurs in response to a trigger such as exposure to an allergen, exercise, or emotional stress.
What are common asthma triggers?
Common asthma triggers include allergens (dust, pollens, molds, animal dander), medications, air pollution, industrial chemical compounds, early childhood infections, perfumes and strong smells, cold air, exercise, and emotional stress.
How is asthma diagnosed?
Since asthma symptoms can closely resemble symptoms of other respiratory problems such as emphysema and bronchitis, asthma often remains undiagnosed for long periods of time. Some people live with asthma for years, thinking they have a bad cough or chronic bronchitis. Doctors diagnose asthma with laboratory tests such as spirometry (which measures the air inhaled and exhaled from the lungs), peak flow monitoring (which measures how much air a person can expel from the lungs), chest x-rays, blood tests, and allergy skin tests.
What does an asthma attack feel like?
The experience differs among individuals. Some asthma sufferers say an asthma attack feels like they are taking deep breaths of cold air and others describe it as feeling suffocated. Asthma attacks make it painful and difficult to breathe, and the asthma sufferer often coughs and wheezes during an attack.
What causes an asthma attack?
When an asthma attack is brought on by a trigger, muscles around the airways become inflamed, swollen, and constricted, making it difficult to breathe. Excess mucus in the airways makes it even more difficult to breathe.
What is allergic asthma?
Allergic asthma is asthma that is triggered by an allergen. Approximately 60% of asthma sufferers have allergic asthma.
Can asthma be cured?
There is no cure for asthma, but it can be controlled with medical treatment, education, and allergen avoidance.
How is asthma treated?
The best way to treat asthma is to avoid allergens or triggers that cause an asthma attack. However, allergen avoidance is not always possible. Drug therapy, consisting of anti-inflammatory medications, reduces inflammation and swelling.
Will I always have asthma?
Some people stop having asthma attacks as they get older, but in the majority of cases, asthma is a chronic disease that requires treatment. If you have asthma, your best plan is to learn how to manage asthma and to avoid triggers.
Sinus & allergies
What is sinusitis and how is it treated?
Sinusitis is an inflammation of the sinuses, which may or may not be due to infection and can occur in any of the sinuses. Patients usually feel a combination of pain, pressure or headache. Sinusitis can be acute or chronic—if it’s acute sinusitis, it can usually be treated with medication.
When is sinus surgery necessary?
Sinus surgery is often necessary when a person with sinusitis does not get better after trying medication or other treatments.
What is tonsillitis and what are its symptoms?
Tonsillitis is an infection of the tonsils. Symptoms of tonsillitis include severe sore throat, difficulty swallowing, headache, fever, and chills.
What is an allergy?
An allergy is an abnormally high sensitivity to a certain substance, such as dust, pollens, foods, pet dander, or drugs. Symptoms of allergies usually include inflammation, sneezing, itching, and skin rashes.
What causes an allergy?
An allergic reaction occurs when your immune system reacts to a foreign substance from the outside world. When your immune system mistakes these normally harmless foreign substances as dangerous invaders, your body sends out antibodies to attack them.
What are the most common allergens?
The most common allergens include dust mites, molds, pollens, animal dander, cockroaches, peanuts, milk, eggs, latex, and penicillin. The dust mite is the most common cause of allergies.
How are allergies diagnosed?
At Chicago ENT, an allergist or immunologist can diagnose your allergies using allergy skin tests. This test indicates if your immune system reacts to specific allergens.
How are allergies treated?
Allergies can be treated with medicine that alleviates symptoms, or with immunotherapy (allergy shots) that desensitize the patient to specific allergens. However, the best method of treating allergies is allergen avoidance. If you’re allergic to dust mites, for instance, your most effective path to wellness would be to eliminate the dust mites from your home.
What are Chicago ENT’s Shot Clinic Hours?
To view the most up to date Shot Clinic information, please CLICK HERE.
How many people have allergies?
Allergies are common. Over 50 million Americans suffer from allergies, and approximately 55% of all U.S. citizens test positive to one or more allergens.
Are allergies inherited?
Usually. There is a genetic factor in the development of allergic disease. If one parent has an allergic disease, the estimated risk of a child to develop allergies is 48%; if both parents have a history of allergies, the child’s estimated risk grows to 70%.
What is “allergy season”?
When most people talk about “allergy season,” they’re referring to springtime, when plants bloom and tree pollen counts soar. People with seasonal allergic rhinitis (hay fever) only experience symptoms during the time of year when certain allergens are in the outdoor air. However, summer is the season for grass and weed pollen allergies, and autumn is the time for ragweed and mold allergies. Perennial allergies, or year-round allergies, are typically caused by indoor allergies to dust mites, mold, cockroaches, and pet dander.
Can an adult develop allergies later in life?
Yes. Allergic reactions can develop at any age, no matter how old you are. If your total allergen load reaches its maximum point, then you will develop allergies. The peak age of allergy development, however, appears to be in the late teens.
What is the best treatment for allergies?
Allergen avoidance is the best treatment for any allergic disease. Avoid the allergen and you’ll avoid the allergic reaction. Diagnosis and education are crucial steps in allergen avoidance.
Center for hearing & balance
I think I’m losing my hearing. Does that mean I need hearing aids?
Not necessarily. But any hearing loss should be checked out by an audiologist.
What causes an ear infection (otitis media)?
An ear infection occurs when there is improper drainage of the fluid that collects behind the eardrum during a cold, allergy or upper respiratory infection and is accompanied by the presence of bacteria or viruses.
What causes swimmer’s ear (otitis externa)?
Otitis externa is a bacterial infection of the outer ear and ear canal causing inflammation which causes an earache. It is typically caused by exposure to water.
What is ringing in the ear (tinnitus)?
Some patients say it sounds like buzzing, clicking, hissing or humming. It can be perceived in one or both ears. It is usually caused by wax, allergy, ear infections, certain medications, circulatory problems and most commonly, prolonged exposure to loud noises.
Why am I dizzy?
Dizziness and imbalance can have both vestibular and non-vestibular causes. The inner ear’s vestibular organs signal to your brain whether you are moving, and how your head is oriented relative to gravity. Your brain then integrates these signals with those received from your eyes, muscles, and joints. When any part of the vestibular system malfunctions, this process of integration breaks down, and dizziness and other symptoms may result. Medical evaluation from one of our qualified vestibular specialists is essential to determine whether your dizziness is caused by a vestibular problem, some other cause, or a combination of factors.
Head & neck cancer
Are there specific risk factors for head and neck cancers?
Yes. Tobacco, alcohol and prolonged sunlight exposure are the most common risk factors.
What are the warning signs of head and neck cancers?
It depends on the location of cancer. Sometimes there are no warning signs. Having any of the following symptoms for more than two weeks warrants visiting one of our specialists:
- A sore or lump on the lip or in the mouth that doesn’t heal
- A white (leukoplakia) or red patch on the gums, tongue or lining of the mouth
- Unusual bleeding
- Pain or numbness in the mouth
- A sore throat that does not go away
- Difficult or painful chewing or swallowing
- A change in the voice like hoarseness
What exactly is vertigo?
The precise definition of vertigo is an illusion of motion. But most vertigo sufferers would agree that it refers not just to illusions of motion but chronic or intermittent sensations of loss of balance.
What are common causes of vertigo?
Many things can cause vertigo, but it is commonly caused by cold viruses, head trauma, or Meniere’s disease.
What do these conditions do to cause this problem?
These are all conditions that affect the inner ear. The inner ear is responsible for our sense of balance and also our sense of position in space. When the inner ear malfunctions, we lose our sense of balance and frequently suffer symptoms such as falling, vertigo, nausea, and vomiting.
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