A Q&A with Dr. Robert McLean, ENT Specialist at MRH
Snoring can be a nuisance to your partner or your entire household, and some people who snore loudly can even wake themselves up. Visiting an ear, nose and throat doctor can help identify what’s causing the snoring so you and your loved ones can enjoy uninterrupted sleep.
Dr. Robert McLean, a board-certified ENT (ear, nose and throat) specialist and head/neck surgeon, said the main concerns of snoring are sleep apnea and obstructive sleep apnea. He shared with us the dangers of sleep apnea and how Memorial Regional Health can help treat the condition.
What causes snoring?
Dr. McLean: Snoring is caused by the same mechanism that allows a violin string to make sound — the back and forth motion. A more interesting question is this: where is the thing that is making the snoring sound? It is usually the soft palate, which is the back part of the roof of the mouth that includes the “hangy downy thing” (the uvula). It is also caused by the back part of the tongue as it turns downward in the throat.
What are the risks of snoring?
Dr. McLean: You mean aside from sore ribs from being elbowed by your sleeping partner or being banished to the couch? More seriously, the main issue that I worry about is sleep apnea or obstructive sleep apnea. The prefix “a-” means no or not which is added to the suffix “–pnea,” which refers to breath.
Sleep apnea is a condition in which the person stops breathing or breathes very shallowly. This can definitely cause cardiac issues. But more importantly, it also causes quality of life issues. The times when breathing stops is during the individual’s deep sleep phase. The brain doesn’t like this, so it will kick itself out of the deep sleep. This can happen every minute or two. It’s like someone shaking you right when you get into the good, restful sleep. Patients routinely say, “I wake up like I haven’t slept at all the night before.”
What does an ENT specialist do for people who snore?
Dr. McLean: First and foremost, we need to determine whether sleep apnea is present. If we are dealing with only snoring, then the reality is that most insurances won’t pay for treatment. There are some treatment options that work, but there are lots of quick treatments. I try to go over these, too.
When is it time to see an ENT specialist for a snoring issue?
Dr. McLean: Are you being banished to the couch? When you wake up, do you feel tired? Has someone noticed you pausing your breathing while sleeping? These all are flags that indicate a need to come in and talk.
How do you treat snoring issues?
Dr. McLean: There are a variety of interventions, both surgical and non-surgical. A great treatment for those that snore and have sleep apnea is the C-PAP machine. The C-PAP machine introduces air pressure to the throat to open up the air passage. There is definitely a “getting-used-to” period for the device. But for people that push through the first few weeks, it is described as a life changer by my patients.
What other ENT services offered at MRH would you like readers to know about?
Dr. McLean: Through the respiratory therapy department, we have an at-home screening tool for sleep apnea that will measure breathing and oxygen saturation during sleep. Best of all, it is free!
What else should readers know about snoring or ENT services at MRH?
Dr. McLean: Sleep apnea is not just an adult issue. It affects kids, too. For example, one manifestation of sleep apnea in kids is bed-wetting. The thought is that these kids that snore prominently and have bed-wetting are breathing poorly, and this triggers the loss of bladder control. Parents are very happy to have the bed-wetting issue resolved with a simple surgical procedure.
Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) Services
Whether suffering from sleep-disordered breathing or frequent ear infections, there are many reasons you might need to see an ENT specialist, also known as an otolaryngologist. MRH’s ENT team works with children and adults to diagnose a variety of conditions.
Dr. Robert McLean is a full-time ENT specialist and head/neck surgeon at MRH. He brings 15 years of experience caring for both children and adults and is board certified by the American Board of Otolaryngology.
To make an appointment, call 970-826-8300.