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Yes, Sleep Apnea Can Be Cured Permanently — Here’s How

Sleep apnea causes a variety of short- and long-term health problems for an estimated 22 million Americans, and it can be difficult to cure.

Many long-term diseases — like asthma and rosacea — can be treated and well controlled, but not cured. The difference between these conditions and sleep apnea is that these conditions have medical causes, whereas sleep apnea has an anatomical cause.

So while you can’t take a pill to fix an anatomical issue, a variety of treatment options do exist to address the underlying anatomical causes of sleep apnea.

So can sleep apnea be cured? In many cases, the answer is yes!

What Is Sleep Apnea?

The word apnea is a medical term for slowed or stopped breathing. A person with sleep apnea slows or stops their breathing repeatedly while they sleep.

The most common type of sleep apnea is called obstructive sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when something blocks your airway while you sleep.

During sleep, your muscle tone is much lower than when you’re awake. Even the muscles in your airway relax. This can cause the tongue and tonsils to droop backwards and block off your airway. In other cases, some people’s jaws or throats are simply shaped in such a way that their airway collapses when they sleep.

Weight can also have a direct effect on sleep apnea. Fatty tissue in the neck can put pressure on the airways of larger-bodied individuals during sleep.

An obstructed airway prevents your lungs from getting the air they need to function properly, and they can no longer provide adequate oxygen to the rest of the body. This can lead to devastating consequences, especially over the long term.

Can Sleep Apnea Be Cured?

A cure is relief from the symptoms of disease. In most cases, when treatments are able to address the underlying anatomical issue causing the problem, sleep apnea can actually be cured!

Challenges in Curing Sleep Apnea in Adults

In children dealing with sleep apnea, removing the tonsils and adenoids almost always cures the sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea can be a bit more challenging to cure in adults because there can be more complicating factors. Weight gain, for instance, has a variety of causes that aren’t always easy to address. Aging causes a natural decrease in muscle tone that’s also difficult to remedy. And anatomical issues require more involved treatments, such as surgeries, to correct.

The Most Effective Ways To Cure Sleep Apnea

Tonsillectomy

We already mentioned that tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy typically cure children who struggle with sleep apnea. But this same surgery can be helpful for adults who still have their tonsils as well.

Tonsillectomy recovery is more difficult for adults. If you decide to go this route, you should plan to take at least two weeks off work after the procedure.

If this is the only issue, then the tonsillectomy should cure the sleep apnea!

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) Machine

For people who are able to tolerate wearing a mask while they sleep, a CPAP machine is an effective way to cure the symptoms of sleep apnea. CPAP machines have been around for years and are still the most common treatment for sleep apnea.

The machine works by continuously blowing air into your airway while you sleep, keeping your airway open and your body oxygenated.

Hyoid Suspension Surgery

A hyoid suspension surgery pulls the hyoid bone — a small, u-shaped bone in the front of your neck — forward, helping to stabilize the airway and prevent it from collapsing during sleep. A surgeon performs the procedure on patients under general anesthesia, and a short hospital stay is usually involved.

Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP) Surgery

UPPP surgery modifies the back of the throat and reshapes the roof of the mouth. A surgeon removes the tonsils if they are still in place, and then makes several small incisions in the soft palate. When suturing these incisions, the surgeon tightens the palate, making it less likely to interfere with airflow.

A UPPP can be extremely helpful for a patient who experiences snoring due to loose tissue in the soft palate. Unfortunately, recovery from this procedure is fairly difficult. An overnight hospital stay for pain management is generally required.

Maxillomandibular Advancement Surgery (MMA)

Maxillomandibular advancement surgery is the most intense treatment we’ll mention in this post. While it is highly effective at curing sleep apnea, it is also quite invasive.

MMA involves a surgeon cutting and moving the patient’s jaw bones forward and securing them in position with titanium screws and plates. Because of its more extensive nature, this procedure comes with more risks and a longer recovery time than the others we’ve mentioned.

Inspire Procedure

In our ENT practice, we’ve found the Inspire procedure for sleep apnea to be as or more effective than any of the surgeries listed above. And it’s much less invasive and less painful as well!

Inspire offers a maskless alternative for people who aren’t able to sleep with their CPAP machine. It works like a pacemaker for your tongue. Instead of connecting to your heart, however, Inspire connects to the nerve that controls your tongue movement.

A surgeon implants the Inspire device in your chest, and a sensor detects when you’re trying to take a breath. When it detects this, Inspire gently encourages your tongue to move slightly forward, clearing your airway for each breath. This effectively cures the symptoms of sleep apnea by using your own nerves and muscles!

Can sleep apnea be cured? Several treatments exist today to address the underlying anatomical causes of sleep apnea.

Yes, Sleep Apnea Can Be Cured!

The good news is that in many cases, sleep apnea can be cured successfully! The treatment you choose is ultimately up to you, the patient. A good ENT doctor can discuss your treatment options and help you decide which is best for you. Then you’ll be on your way to a better night’s sleep!

Is There a “Best” Antibiotic for Sinus Infections?

We all know the frustration of a run-of-the-mill cold virus that turns into a raging sinus infection. The sinus headaches, facial pressure, and facial pain are no joke!

So what is the single best antibiotic for a sinus infection? As it turns out, the answer isn’t quite that simple.

What Is a Sinus Infection?

Your sinuses are simply air-filled pockets in your head. They lighten the skull and allow your voice to reverberate. The membranes that line the sinuses also produce mucus to lubricate the inside of the nose.

Your sinuses are connected to your nose by small drainage tubes called ostia. Ostia allow mucus to flow from the sinuses into the nose and air to flow up through the nose into the sinuses.

Ostia can become blocked by inflammation due to a cold, the flu, or allergies, preventing mucus from flowing out of the sinuses into the nose. Instead, the mucus backs up and accumulates in the sinuses, causing the pressure and pain sufferers know so well.

Many sinus infections start off as cold or flu viruses, which means antibiotics — which only fight bacteria — can’t do anything to help them. These sinus infections can get better on their own or with alternative treatments, especially once the source of the sinus blockage clears up.

That said, sinus infections provide a perfect breeding ground for bacteria, so if the blockage lingers, the infection can become bacterial. This may involve yellow or green mucus, further pain and pressure, and even an unpleasant odor. A bacterial sinus infection can require antibiotics to resolve.

Other Options To Consider Before Antibiotics

Antibiotics are one of the most important advances in modern medicine, but it’s best not to use them if you don’t need to. For sinus infections, whether viral or bacterial, there are several effective over-the-counter remedies you can try at home before turning to antibiotics.

Sinus Rinses and Irrigation

In many cases, sinus irrigation is a very effective treatment for sinus infections. One method is to simply rinse out your nose and sinuses with a neti pot or other irrigation system using a saline solution. You can buy saline solution over the counter or mix your own at home with distilled water.

Alternatively, you can buy bottles of saline solution made to spray directly into your nose from most pharmacies and grocery stores.

Sinus rinses work by flushing mucus out of the nose and sinuses to help things flow freely. Saline also has a natural decongestant effect, shrinking swollen nasal tissues and opening up nasal passages.

We recommend using sinus irrigation once or twice per day as tolerated.

Topical Steroid Sprays

Topical steroid sprays work to reduce inflammation in the nasal lining. These over-the-counter medications are a great complement to saline nasal sprays and irrigations. Side effects are minimal, especially when used short term.

Flonase, Nasacort, and Rhinocort are the most common over-the-counter name brands. But their generic counterparts — fluticasone, triamcinolone, and budesonide — are just as effective and usually much less expensive.

The main problem with topical steroid sprays is that they can take time to become effective. So while they can be helpful when treating a lingering sinus infection, they’re not as effective at relieving more severe acute sinus infection symptoms.

Antihistamines

Antihistamines block receptor cells for histamine, a chemical that the body produces in response to allergens and that causes inflammation. If your sinus infection originated because of a nasal blockage due to allergy inflammation, treating this underlying cause may help open the sinuses and lead to healing.

We recommend only taking antihistamines on a short-term or as-needed basis because they tend to cause severe drying. Long-term use can lead to bloody noses and can even make you more susceptible to future sinus infections.

We prefer non-drowsy antihistamines such as Claritin, Zyrtec, and Xyzal so you can stay alert. Be sure to look for their generic counterparts — loratadine, cetirizine, and levocetirizine — for effective, cheaper options.

The best antibiotic for a sinus infection differs depending on the situation. This infographic shows several antibiotic alternatives.

The Best Antibiotic for a Sinus Infection

If you’ve tried the home remedies mentioned above and are still fighting a sinus infection, it’s time to see your doctor. You may have a bacterial infection, and only a doctor can prescribe you the best antibiotic for your specific sinus infection.

Why There Is No Single “Best” Antibiotic for a Sinus Infection

Different antibiotics target different types of bacteria in the body. The specific type of bacteria causing your sinus infection will react to a specific antibiotic, but you may need to try several of them before your doctor finds one that’s effective.

Most doctors will start by prescribing a first-line antibiotic for 10–14 days. This antibiotic broadly targets the most common types of bacteria in the nose and throat that cause sinus infections.

If you have a true chronic sinus infection, you may require 4–6 straight weeks of antibiotic use.

Sometimes bacteria can form a film to protect themselves, in which case doctors can wash the sinuses with an antibiotic rinse. Other times, your physician may want to culture the bacteria causing your infection to determine exactly what you’re dealing with. Then they can prescribe an antibiotic specific to the bacteria causing your sinus infection.

There are hundreds of possible antibiotics to use for a sinus infection. Only a doctor can determine the best antibiotic to use for your sinus infection based on your specific case.

How Many Sinus Infections Is Too Many?

It’s difficult to say exactly how many sinus infections per year is “too many.” Of course, you should consult with your healthcare provider, but it’s best to consult an ENT specialist if you’re dealing with more than two sinus infections per year. An ENT specialist can discover what’s causing your ongoing sinus struggles and help you figure out what to do about them.

What Are Tympanostomy Tubes and Do You Need Them?

You’ve probably heard other parents mention their child getting tubes in their ears. It sounds simple enough when it’s someone else’s child.

But when it’s your baby’s turn, anxiety can rear its head.

We know that any medical procedure on your child can seem scary, regardless of their age, and we want to set your mind at ease. In this post, we’ll talk about who needs tympanostomy tubes, what exactly tympanostomy tubes are, and how they’re inserted.

Who Needs Tympanostomy Tubes?

Most tympanostomy tubes are placed in children, but adults sometimes need them as well. In children, the primary reason for tympanostomy tubes is chronic fluid and infection in the middle ear (otitis media) that doesn’t resolve with antibiotics.

Normally, the eustachian tube ventilates the middle ear, opening and closing to equalize air pressure and allow fluid to drain from our ear to the back of our nose and down our throat. But this channel can become blocked by inflammation, allergies, and infection, causing eustachian tube dysfunction. Air and fluid then build up in the middle ear, leading to pain, pressure, and ear infection.

Eustachian tubes in young children tend to be smaller and more horizontal, so they become blocked more easily than adult eustachian tubes. This is why children often get more ear infections than adults.

An occasional ear infection is easily treated with antibiotics. But chronic otitis media with effusion (fluid) lasts for three months or longer, and recurrent acute otitis media involves multiple isolated ear infections over a period of time —three in six months or four in 12 months. In these cases, tympanostomy tubes replace the function of the blocked eustachian tubes, allowing air and fluid to drain from the middle ear through the outer ear instead.

In adults, fluid buildup in the ear usually just causes discomfort. In young children, however, the fluid can cause hearing loss that leads to delays in speech development.

If repeated ear infections aren’t addressed (or are simply prescribed oral antibiotics over and over again), they can cause:

  • Hearing loss.
  • Damage to the middle ear and eardrum.
  • Gastrointestinal issues or oral thrush from repeated systemic antibiotics.

As tympanostomy tubes ventilate the middle ear, the ear becomes less susceptible to infection. Fluid and pressure no longer impede the eardrum’s function, and hearing returns to normal. By using tympanostomy tubes in children, we hope to ventilate the middle ear until a child grows out of their repeated ear infections.

All About Tympanostomy Tubes

If you’re considering tympanostomy tubes, you likely have questions about the placement procedure. We believe the more you know about the tympanostomy procedure, the more at ease you’ll be.

What Are Tympanostomy Tubes?

Tympanostomy tubes (or ear tubes) are tiny tubes about 2–3 mm long. We find that using flexible rubber tubes causes less trauma to the ear than other tubes on the market, such as thicker plastic or metal tubes.

What Is a Tympanostomy?

A tympanostomy is a procedure in which an ENT surgeon uses a sharp tool to create a very small hole in the tympanic membrane (the eardrum). The surgeon then inserts the tiny tympanostomy tube into the hole to keep it open. Otherwise, the eardrum would heal the hole within a fairly short time, as it does after a myringotomy.

An adult tympanostomy is a simple, five-minute office procedure performed with topical numbing medication. Children are unable to lie still enough for a tympanostomy, however, so their procedures occur in an outpatient surgery center where they can receive anesthesia via a mask. No IVs are necessary, and the procedure is still short and simple.

Tympanostomy tubes are a simple, easy, low-risk way to relieve discomfort and prevent infection when nothing else seems to help.

After Tympanostomy Tube Placement

After receiving the anesthesia for their tympanostomy, it’s not unusual for kids to be a little cranky for the remainder of the day. But by the day after surgery, they should be able to resume normal activities and attend school or daycare. There are no limitations on diet or exercise, and it’s not necessary to try to keep water out of the ears.

We check the patient’s hearing in our office a few weeks after the tubes are placed to ensure improvement. We also schedule follow-up visits to check the tympanostomy tubes every six months until they fall out.

Tympanostomy Tubes Provide Big Benefits

Like any medical procedure, getting tympanostomy tubes in your own or your child’s ears may be intimidating. But tympanostomy tube placement is a simple, easy, low-risk procedure that can relieve discomfort and prevent infection when nothing else seems to help.

We hope you find this information helpful and can look forward to the benefits of tympanostomy tubes without worry!

Patient Instructions for Ear Tube Drainage: A Complete Guide

Ear tube placement is a very simple, routine office procedure. But many patients have questions after they get home.

Is ear tube drainage normal? How much is normal? Is it okay if my ears were draining but then stopped?

Let’s talk about what to expect after ear tube placement and what might warrant a call to the office.

What Does Ear Tube Placement Do?

The vast majority of ear tube (tympanostomy tube) patients are under the age of two. The unfortunate truth is that the eustachian tube (the small tunnel that connects the middle ear to the back of the nose) doesn’t always work very well, especially in little kids.

A healthy eustachian tube opens when we swallow, yawn, and talk, allowing air to vent and fluid to drain through it. This keeps ear pressure normal and prevents an accumulation of fluid in the middle ear.

But with eustachian tube dysfunction, this passageway becomes blocked because of inflammation or infection. Air and fluid build up in the middle ear, leading to pressure, pain, and infection.

In young children, the eustachian tube is more horizontal than in adults, which means fluid and infection can flow back into the ear more easily. This is why children tend to have more ear infections than adults.

Occasional ear infections are usually easy to treat with antibiotics alone. But chronic ear infections — infections that last more than three months — or recurrent ear infections may need the help of ear tubes to heal.

When the eustachian tube isn’t doing its job to drain the ear, tubes allow built-up fluid in the middle ear to drain through the outer ear. This helps to resolve existing infection and prevent new infection.

So while we understand why it would seem alarming, ear tube drainage is an expected result of ear tube placement.

The Ear Tube Placement Procedure

An ear tube placement procedure is also called a tympanostomy. It’s a simple office procedure in which an ENT surgeon makes a small hole in the tympanic membrane (the eardrum). The doctor then inserts a tiny tube — about a millimeter in diameter — into the hole to prevent the eardrum from closing back up. This little tube creates a channel for fluid to drain from the middle ear through the outer ear.

What Are Ear Tubes?

There are a variety of ear tubes made out of different types of materials, such as metal or rubber. The tubes we use in our practice are made from a soft, elastic rubber and are 2–3 mm long. We find this type of tube causes the least amount of trauma to the ear and is least likely to leave a hole after removal.

After Ear Tube Placement

We prescribe antibiotic ear drops after ear tube placements to heal infection. If these drops don’t work, we can prescribe stronger antibiotic drops that also contain a steroid. One of the major advantages of ear tubes is that we almost never have to prescribe oral antibiotics. The topical antibiotics usually clear up the infection.

What Should I Do if My Child Has Ear Tube Drainage?

Keep in mind that ear tubes are designed to help drain fluid and air from behind the eardrum. Ear tube drainage means that the ear tube is open and functioning properly. Instead of accumulating behind the eardrum, the fluid buildup has a way to escape, helping to prevent infection.

Some children will have more drainage than others. The amount of drainage or color of drainage is not a cause for concern, even if it contains a small amount of blood (especially right after the procedure).

When To Worry About Ear Tube Drainage

Because ear tube drainage is normal and expected — in fact, it’s the goal of ear tube placement — drainage is almost never a cause for concern. However, there are a few scenarios that warrant a call to the office.

Ear Tube Drainage Stops Suddenly

If the ear was draining and the drainage suddenly stops, this could indicate that the ear tube has become blocked. Sometimes a scab can grow over the ear tube’s opening, preventing the ear tube from facilitating drainage. Thicker drainage may also clog the ear tube.

Other times, a patient may wake up with their ear tube on their pillow, or it may come out unnoticed. This can happen if thicker drainage pushes the ear tube out. If this happens, drainage may stop as well.

Eventually, most ear tubes fall out on their own after 6–12 months, though the time can be longer or shorter depending on the patient. This is expected and not a cause for concern. The ear drum then heals itself normally.

If ear tube drainage stops suddenly, consider your child’s symptoms. If they appear healthy and free from symptoms, the ear tube drainage may have stopped because the infection has healed. If they still appear sick, however, it’s possible that the ear tube has become blocked or fallen out, and a call to the office can help you determine next steps.

Is ear tube drainage normal? We talk about what to expect after ear tube placement and what might warrant a call to the office.

Ear Tube Drainage — Scary but Normal

When you or your child have dealt with chronic or recurrent ear infections, any amount of drainage can seem scary. We hope that the information we’ve provided here sets your mind at ease!

How To Manage Chronic Eustachian Tube Dysfunction

We all experience eustachian tube dysfunction at some point in our lives, usually during a respiratory virus. Ear pressure, a sense of fullness in the ears, or muffled hearing can last for a week or so and then vanish when the illness clears up on its own.

But for people with chronic eustachian tube dysfunction, these symptoms don’t clear up. They persist for a month or more, even when everything else in the body seems to be working well.

So what is chronic eustachian tube dysfunction? How do you know if you have it? And if you do have it, what can you do to treat it?

What Is Eustachian Tube Dysfunction?

The eustachian tubes are tiny tubes made of bone and cartilage that run from the middle ear to the back of the nose. The eustachian tubes stay closed at rest, and they open when you swallow, chew, or yawn.

The eustachian tubes’ opening and closing action helps to equalize the air pressure in your middle ear with the air pressure around you. This is why yawning or chewing gum helps to relieve that feeling of ear pressure on an airplane. Eustachian tubes also drain fluid from the middle ear to the back of the nose and down the throat.

When the eustachian tubes are functioning normally, you won’t notice anything about them. But if a eustachian tube becomes blocked, fluid and pressure build up in the middle ear. This is called eustachian tube dysfunction and can lead to a host of unpleasant symptoms.

Causes of Eustachian Tube Dysfunction

Eustachian tube dysfunction most often arises from swelling in the nose and excess mucus production caused by allergies, sinus infection, or a respiratory virus. This blocks off the entrance of the eustachian tube, leading to dysfunction.

Altitude and pressure changes from flying on an airplane, SCUBA diving, or driving on mountain roads can also cause eustachian tube dysfunction, though this is usually temporary and resolves within minutes or hours.

Smoking can irritate the eustachian tube and lead to dysfunction.

In children under the age of three or four, the eustachian tubes are much shorter and more horizontal than they will be later in life. This makes it incredibly easy for fluid from the nose to drain into the ear and become trapped, causing frequent ear infections. The adenoids, a patch of lymphatic tissue in the back of the nose, can also swell and block the eustachian tubes in young children.

Symptoms of Eustachian Tube Dysfunction

Symptoms of eustachian tube dysfunction vary, but can include:

  • Feeling of fullness in the ears.
  • Muffled sound, as if hearing underwater.
  • Painful pressure.
  • Ringing in the ears.
  • Loss of balance.
  • Popping or fluttering sensation in the ears.

What Makes Eustachian Tube Dysfunction Chronic?

Everyone experiences eustachian tube dysfunction from time to time on a cross-country flight or during a cold or flu. But if you’re experiencing symptoms constantly for no obvious reason, this is chronic eustachian tube dysfunction, and it needs treatment.

Treatment Options for Chronic Eustachian Tube Dysfunction

Symptoms of acute (not chronic) eustachian tube dysfunction usually resolve on their own, but if you’re experiencing long-term symptoms of eustachian tube dysfunction, talk with your ENT doctor about medical intervention.

At-Home Treatment

In our office, we start by trying the least invasive treatment option first: medications to decrease the inflammation in your nose.

Antihistamines (like Claritin, Zyrtec, Xyzal, or Allegra) can help decrease the swelling in the nose, which may help to unplug your eustachian tubes. Decongestants and topical steroid sprays may also provide relief from your symptoms. These medications are available over the counter at your local pharmacy or grocery store.

For relief during this stage, a technique called autoinsufflation may help to clear the eustachian tube and release some of that pressure in the middle ear. To try this technique, pinch your nose and exhale gently through your mouth while the mouth is closed.

Myringotomy and Tympanostomy

If the symptoms don’t resolve after about a month, you likely have chronic eustachian tube dysfunction. At this point, your ENT doctor may suggest a myringotomy or tympanostomy.

A myringotomy is a simple in-office procedure. Your ENT surgeon uses a sharp tool to make a small hole in the eardrum. This allows the middle ear to drain and ventilate through the outer ear. The eardrum will repair itself within about two weeks, so this is only a short-term solution to the problem.

If the myringotomy is helpful, a tympanostomy tube can be placed in the eardrum hole that the ENT doctor created. This tube is about a millimeter in diameter and prevents the eardrum from closing up. This “release valve” bypasses the eustachian tube altogether, continually allowing fluid to drain through the outer ear and keeping air pressure equalized.

Eustachian Tube Balloon Dilation

Eustachian tube balloon dilation is another simple office procedure. Balloon dilation involves very little pain or risk, and has a very high success rate. Because the balloon is inserted through the nostrils, there isn’t any scarring to worry about.

In eustachian tube balloon dilation, an ENT surgeon thoroughly numbs the back of your nose where the eustachian tube empties. The surgeon then inserts a small balloon into the eustachian tube and simply inflates it.

This inflation opens up the part of the eustachian tube that tends to collapse. Once the balloon is properly pressurized, it remains inflated for about two minutes. Then the balloon is deflated and removed.

The effects of a balloon dilation aren’t permanent, but research continues to show consistent improvement in eustachian tube function for one year or longer.

Dealing With Chronic Eustachian Tube Dysfunction?

At ENT Associates of Lubbock, we see patients with eustachian tube dysfunction every day. Our team has extensive experience with this problem and knows how to help alleviate its irritating symptoms. Get in touch with us today to schedule a consultation. We look forward to hearing from you!

The VivAer Nasal Airway Remodeling Procedure Explained

Difficulty sleeping. Snoring. Congestion that never seems to end. Trouble breathing through your nose while working out.

If you know these symptoms well, you may have a nasal airway obstruction. Maybe you’ve had it so long, you didn’t even realize breathing could be different!

If this is your situation, you may benefit from the VivAer nasal airway remodeling procedure. Let’s take a deeper look at the VivAer procedure, its benefits, who the procedure is right for, and what to expect with VivAer recovery.

What Is Nasal Airway Obstruction?

Nasal airway obstruction is any blockage in the nose or nasal passages that prevents air from flowing freely.

Your body is designed to take in air through the nose, which warms and humidifies air as you breathe it in. Obstructed nasal passages force you to instead breathe through your mouth, which can lead to a dry mouth, sore throat, dental problems, and difficulty sleeping.

To see if you have nasal airway obstruction, an ENT doctor will look at four main components in your nose and evaluate whether they are contributing to an obstruction.

Nasal Septum

The nasal septum is the central wall that divides the nose into two distinct halves. When the septum is deviated, or pushed to one side, it can restrict airflow on one (or sometimes both) sides of the nose.

Some people are born with a deviated septum. Other times it results from trauma to the nose, such as a car accident or sports injury.

Inferior Turbinates

The inferior turbinates are structures on the interior sidewalls of the nose. The inferior turbinates increase the nose’s surface area to help humidify and warm air before it enters the lungs. If these turbinates become enlarged from allergies, infection, or another cause of inflammation, they can cause an obstruction.

Mucosa

The nasal mucosa is the lining that covers the entire interior surface of the nose. When this lining becomes inflamed from allergies or a sinus infection, it narrows the nasal passages and obstructs nasal breathing.

Nasal Valve

Also known as nostrils, the nasal valves maintain their shape to help funnel air into the body as you breathe in.

Some people’s nasal valves collapse when they inhale deeply or breathe vigorously, as with exercise. In some people, the nasal valves remain collapsed all the time. Collapsed valves restrict airflow and force a person to breathe through their mouth. This is where VivAer Nasal Airway Remodeling comes in.

What Is the VivAer Nasal Airway Remodeling Procedure?

The VivAer procedure specifically addresses nasal airway obstruction caused by nasal valve collapse. It quickly, gently, and permanently widens and reshapes the nasal valve to remove the obstruction for good. VivAer can also sometimes help when the patient has a widened septal body (when the nasal septum is a little too wide toward the top of the nose).

The VivAer procedure is performed in a physician’s office with local anesthetic to keep you comfortable throughout the process. The doctor inserts a very small wand through your nostril to target your nasal valve area.

The wand uses low-temperature radiofrequency energy to heat the nasal tissues and make them more malleable. The physician applies a bit of pressure and gently reshapes the area. The entire VivAer procedure, including numbing, takes about half an hour.

The VivAer procedure usually expands the nasal airway by 1 to 2 millimeters. This may not sound very impressive, but think about how small the nasal airways are. That extra 1 to 2 millimeters can make an enormous difference in airflow!

What Are the Benefits of the VivAer Procedure?

VivAer offers significant advantages over previous treatments.

In the past, the standard treatment for nasal valve collapse was a cartilage graft. A surgeon took cartilage from a patient’s septum and implanted it in the sidewalls of the nose to help maintain an open airway. Cartilage grafts are invasive procedures that require general anesthesia in a hospital or surgery center and several weeks’ recovery time.

VivAer is a noninvasive procedure performed right in your ENT doctor’s office. It is incredibly well tolerated by most patients, causes little to no discomfort, and requires almost no recovery time.

While other procedures like septoplasty and turbinate reduction address certain causes of nasal airway obstruction, they don’t address collapsed nasal valves. Sometimes patients who’ve undergone other surgeries in the past find relief with a simple VivAer procedure.

VivAer Recovery

VivAer is often performed along with other nasal procedures, which can increase recovery time. But if VivAer is the only procedure being performed, patients can resume their normal activities right away. They will have no pain and little to no bleeding.

VivAer recovery mainly involves only two things. First, patients experience some crusting in the nostrils for two to three weeks after the procedure. We send them home with an ointment to put on the inside of their nostrils to keep them comfortable. Second, they also experience some congestion for a week or so, but after that time, airflow significantly improves.

Interested in VivAer Nasal Airway Remodeling?

The physicians at ENT Associates of Lubbock are experts in helping you breathe better. Our team would love to help you evaluate whether VivAer Nasal Airway Remodeling is right for you. Give us a call today.

How To Know if a Bone Conduction Hearing Aid Is Right for You

If you’re interested in increasing your ability to hear after experiencing hearing loss, you may find yourself considering hearing aids. Bone conduction hearing aids are only one type of assistive hearing device. They can help many people, but not everyone with hearing loss is a good candidate for them.

Today we’re looking at what a bone conduction hearing aid is, who it can help, and what’s involved in the surgical procedure and recovery.

Types of Hearing Loss

Because a bone conduction hearing aid doesn’t help with all types of hearing loss, let’s first take a look at the three basic types of hearing loss.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL) is the most common type of hearing loss and results from a problem in the inner ear. This can involve issues with the nerve pathways between the inner ear and brain or problems with inner ear structures such as the cochlea — a snail-shaped, fluid-filled bone.

SNHL may be present from birth due to a malformation of the inner ear. It can also be caused by repeated exposure to loud noises, head trauma, aging, genetic hearing loss, and certain medications that damage hearing (like certain cancer drugs and a class of antibiotics called aminoglycosides).

People with SNHL find it especially difficult to hear soft sounds, but louder sounds can also seem muffled.

Conductive Hearing Loss

In conductive hearing loss, the nerves and cochlea are still in good working order. The problem is with the transmission (or conduction) of sound to the auditory nerve. The sound waves never reach the nerve, so the brain can never interpret them as sound.

You can think of conductive hearing loss as more of a mechanical issue. Something prevents sound waves from passing all the way through the outer and middle ear to the inner ear.

Anything that interferes with your ear’s system of conducting sound vibrations to the inner ear can cause conductive hearing loss. As long as they receive prompt and proper treatment, some of these problems will likely resolve without causing permanent hearing loss, such as:

Other problems are more likely to cause long-term conductive hearing loss, such as:

  • Congenital malformations of ear structures.
  • Severe trauma to ear structures.
  • Scarring from repeated ear infections.
  • Scarring from multiple ear surgeries.

Mixed Hearing Loss

Mixed hearing loss, like its name suggests, is when someone has a mixture of both SNHL and conductive hearing loss. For example, sometimes an accident can damage the middle ear and the inner ear simultaneously. Or someone born with SNHL can experience a severe fluid buildup that causes conductive hearing loss.

Bone Conduction Hearing Aids

Who Can Benefit From a Bone Conduction Hearing Aid?

Bone conduction hearing aids are specifically useful to conductive hearing loss patients. People with only sensorineural hearing loss don’t benefit from a bone conduction hearing aid. People with mixed hearing loss may find a bone conduction hearing aid helpful, depending on their individual case.

How Does a Bone Conduction Hearing Aid Work?

In young children or people with only mild hearing loss, a nonsurgical bone conduction hearing aid may be a possibility. If this isn’t a good fit, there are two surgical options available, each including an internal and external component:

  • Percutaneous — a titanium abutment protrudes through the skin to provide an attachment site for the external component.
  • Transcutaneous — the internal component uses magnets to attract the external component through the skin.

A surgeon implants a tiny titanium screw into the mastoid bone, directly behind the ear. This screw may have an abutment outside the skin where the hearing aid can “snap” on.

The bone conduction hearing aid acts as a receptor for sound waves from the air, turns those sound waves into vibrations, and uses the skull itself to conduct the sound waves to the auditory nerve. The sound waves bypass the problematic outer ear, eardrum, and ossicles (middle ear bones) entirely.

The Bone Conduction Hearing Aid Placement Procedure

The bone conduction hearing aid placement procedure probably sounds scarier than it actually is. In a simple, outpatient procedure, the area behind the ear is numbed. The surgeon makes a small incision behind the ear and inserts the titanium screw and abutment (if applicable).

If an abutment is involved, it remains protruding from the skin, and the rest of the incision is stitched closed around it to heal. Sometimes a small dressing may be placed over the incision. If no abutment is involved, the incision is allowed to close completely.

Recovery After Bone Conduction Hearing Aid Placement

After your placement procedure, you’ll be instructed to take it easy for a few days and avoid any heavy lifting for about a week. The main challenge of recovery from a bone conduction hearing aid placement is ensuring that skin doesn’t grow over an abutment.

Full recovery generally takes two to four weeks. After this time passes and your surgeon declares that your implant is fully healed, you can be fitted for your hearing aid system.

Are You Interested in Bone Conduction Hearing Aids?

If you have conductive hearing loss or mixed hearing loss and are interested in a bone conduction hearing aid, the first step is getting an ENT exam with hearing tests. Your ENT doctor may also order a CT scan to evaluate your inner ear structures.

After receiving your hearing test and CT scan results, talk with your ENT surgeon and an audiologist to see if bone conduction hearing aids could be the best solution for your ear and type of hearing loss.

Worried Your Allergy Symptoms Are COVID? You’re Not Alone

Everyone knows what it’s like to wake up feeling a little run down or with a runny nose, congestion, or cough.

A few years ago, you’d just assume you had a cold and move on with your life. If you’re an allergy sufferer, you’d pop a Zyrtec and head to the office. A fever would cause a little more trouble; you might take it easy for a bit and then everything would return to normal.

Today, things are a little different.

COVID is on everyone’s mind. Symptoms that wouldn’t have caused a second thought before are now cause for anxiety. What’s that tickle in your throat? Why are you coughing? Is this runny nose really from your ragweed allergy, or is it COVID?

Unfortunately, during surges in COVID case numbers, you’re not being paranoid — a high level of suspicion is necessary.

In this post, we want to help you understand the likelihood of your symptoms being COVID versus something else like allergies, the flu, or a cold.

covid-19 symptoms table

Allergies or COVID?

Allergies are an overreaction of the immune system to a relatively harmless environmental stimulus. Histamine, one of the body’s chemical messengers, works to fight off these perceived threats as quickly as possible. The histamine reaction causes swelling, sneezing, tearing of the eyes, and itching.

Allergies and COVID share a few similar symptoms, like a headache and runny nose. But COVID often comes with whole-body symptoms like a fever, chills, body aches, cough, and exhaustion.

Allergy symptoms, caused by histamine reactions, tend to be concentrated in the upper respiratory system. Sneezing, congestion, runny nose, and itchy, watery eyes are all hallmark signs of allergies. And while allergies occasionally cause a cough, it’s not generally the nagging, persistent cough that can accompany COVID.

Taking an over-the-counter antihistamine is one of the best ways to determine whether you’re dealing with COVID or allergies. An antihistamine (such as Claritin, Zyrtec, Allegra, or Xyzal) won’t help with COVID, but it should help improve allergy symptoms.

A Common Cold or COVID?

A variety of viruses can cause the common cold: rhinoviruses, RSV, parainfluenza, and coronaviruses. COVID, however, is caused by a specific coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2.

Early in the pandemic, symptoms of the common cold were somewhat easier to distinguish from COVID. But COVID has changed over time and now has several variants. Omicron, for example, has a somewhat milder presentation, making it difficult to distinguish from a cold based on symptoms alone. Both illnesses can present with nasal congestion, runny nose, and sore throat, but in our office we’ve noticed that some patients with Omicron don’t have the fever or cough that people have had with other COVID variants.

“Better safe than sorry” is the motto here. If you find yourself with symptoms of the common cold, go ahead and get tested — especially if you know you’ve been exposed to someone who has COVID. During a surge in COVID cases, it’s reasonable to assume you’re dealing with COVID until you’re shown otherwise.

Influenza or COVID?

Mild cases of COVID closely mimicked influenza (“the flu”) during the beginning of the pandemic. And it can still be difficult to tell the difference between the symptoms.

The flu typically involves a fever, body aches, chills, cough, congestion, and a headache. But COVID, especially the earlier variants, usually involves most of these symptoms too! A loss of taste and smell is the hallmark symptom that often differentiates between these two infections.

Again, the safest course of action if you’re experiencing flu-like symptoms is to get tested. Many doctors’ offices and other facilities offer rapid flu tests along with COVID tests, so you can know for sure whether you have one or the other. Several effective antiviral medications exist for the flu — good news if you receive a positive flu test!

A Note About the Loss of Taste and Smell

One final note about all of these conditions: You probably know that loss of taste and smell is a classic sign of COVID. But occasionally during allergies, a cold, or the flu, the sinuses become blocked by mucus or swelling, leading to a sinus infection. This swelling can block the airflow through your nose, preventing it from reaching the olfactory nerve that’s responsible for your sense of smell.

Since odor particles are carried in the air, you won’t be able to smell anything when air can’t reach your olfactory nerve. And because your ability to taste relies so heavily upon your sense of smell, a sinus infection can lead to a loss of sense of taste as well. Because of this, a COVID test really is the best way to tell the difference.

Do I Have COVID-19?

In the end, you should err on the side of caution (particularly during COVID surges). Unfortunately, the only way to completely rule out a case of COVID is to get tested and wait for the results.

We’ve included a chart with the common symptoms of COVID-19, the flu, a common cold, and allergies in this post for your reference. But keep in mind that as new COVID variants develop, symptoms can change, and COVID symptoms vary widely from person to person.

If you have questions about whether your symptoms are COVID, allergies, or something else, we recommend consulting with your doctor and scheduling a COVID test. You can also always refer to the current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) COVID guidelines.

Ask a Doctor: 8 Answers to Your Post-Tonsillectomy FAQs

There’s no way around it. Recovering from a tonsillectomy, especially as an adult, is just plain miserable. Children fare slightly better, but the process is hard.

Your surgeon will do everything they can to help you stay as comfortable as possible during your recovery. But regardless of how prepared you are, recovery from a tonsillectomy is usually unpleasant and painful. Because of this, most patients (and the parents of our tiniest patients!) have a lot of questions and concerns about the recovery process.

My child won’t drink after her tonsillectomy. Why does my ear hurt? Why am I coughing? Is it normal to a have a fever after a tonsillectomy?

These are all incredibly common questions. Below, we’ll answer eight of the most frequently asked questions we hear about tonsillectomy recovery.

common patient questions about tonsillectomy recovery

Question #1: Why Won’t My Child Drink After a Tonsillectomy?

Answer: Children often refuse to drink after a tonsillectomy. Although they may feel okay in the immediate postoperative period, their pain increases as their anesthesia wears off. Eventually, they don’t want to eat, drink or swallow. They might even hold their saliva in their mouths to avoid the pain that comes with swallowing.

Because hydration is important for tonsillectomy recovery, you may have to get creative to find ways for your child to take in enough fluids. Good hydration aids in healing, decreases overall pain, and reduces the risk of bleeding. The good news is, popsicles count as hydration.

Popsicles, slushies, ice cream and any other kind of cold, sugary drink you can imagine can all be good to get your child to “drink” enough fluids for a few days. The cold soothes their sore throat, and the sugar makes them want more.

If your child prefers warm fluids like tea, hot chocolate or broth, that’s fine too, although it’s good to make sure the liquid isn’t scalding. For now, we recommend setting aside worries about a nutritious diet; the most important thing for a few days is to keep your child hydrated so they can heal.

If you or your child absolutely cannot swallow, IV hydration is an option, but requires a trip to the ER or an urgent care center. We like to avoid this if possible as it’s always better to keep the throat moist and hydrate naturally.

Question #2: Why Am I Experiencing Voice Changes After My Tonsillectomy?

Answer: If your voice changes after your tonsillectomy, it could be for a couple of reasons. Because of the pain in your throat, you could be moving your tongue and throat less than usual, guarding the area. In this case, your voice will return to normal when the pain and swelling recede.

If your tonsils were really enlarged before your tonsillectomy, they may have muffled your voice. In that case, removing the tonsils changes the way your voice sounds by giving it more space to resonate and project.

Question #3: What Can I Do About Bad Breath After a Tonsillectomy?

Answer: There’s good news and bad news here.

The bad news is that there’s not much you can do to make your breath smell better in the days right after your tonsillectomy.

The good news? That unpleasant smell is actually an integral part of the healing process. As your throat heals, your body produces its own biological “dressings” for the wounds. As the healing process progresses, tissues slough off and can sometimes cause an unpleasant odor.

This smell will eventually go away. But in the meantime, we don’t recommend you use products like alcohol-based mouthwash to try to improve your breath. These can be incredibly painful on a healing throat!

Question #4: What Should I Eat After a Tonsillectomy?

Answer: We recommend you eat soft foods after your tonsillectomy surgery. Yogurt, pudding, Jell-O, soups, scrambled eggs, mashed potatoes, smoothies, macaroni and cheese: these are all good options that can slide down your throat with ease.

It’s best to avoid any foods that could scratch or irritate your throat, like chips, pizza or crusty breads. These could even scrape off your scabs before they’re fully ready. It’s a good idea to avoid carbonated drinks in the beginning phases of healing because the bubbles can cause pain in your throat. Spicy foods can also have the same effect.

Avoiding red drinks or foods like strawberry Jell-O is also a good idea. It’s important to keep an eye out for blood after a tonsillectomy. If you wind up vomiting or spitting and you see red from the food or drink, it might look like blood and cause an unnecessary panic. On the other hand, you’ll want to be able to tell if you do develop a bleed, which the red food coloring could conceal!

We also advise against using straws or sippy cups that require strong suction in the days after a tonsillectomy. This is because, theoretically, the suction from drinking through these could pull the scabs off your throat prematurely. (This is similar to the advice to avoid drinking through straws after a tooth extraction.)

Question #5: Do I Have To Stop Smoking After a Tonsillectomy?

Answer: While we don’t ever recommend smoking, it can be especially dangerous after a tonsillectomy. Smoking can dry out the tonsillar beds where your tonsils used to sit while they’re trying to heal. This drying can increase your risk of bleeding.

Smoking also decreases the supply of oxygen to your tissues. Since your tissues are in the midst of a difficult healing process, smoking can prolong that already difficult process.

Question #6: Why Do I Have a Cough After a Tonsillectomy?

Answer: Intermittent coughing after a tonsillectomy isn’t necessarily something to worry about, and it can happen for a variety of reasons.

When you’re intubated for surgery, a tube passes down your throat and between your vocal cords. This can cause quite a bit of irritation in your throat and can lead to a cough.

You may also have extra drainage in your throat. You would normally swallow it, but now your throat is tender and you can’t swallow easily. Consequently, the drainage hangs around, irritating your throat and causing a cough.

Or, your cough may just be a natural reaction from your throat in response to the insult it received during surgery.

Coughing can put pressure on your healing scabs, though. If your cough becomes frequent or powerful, you’ll need help to suppress it. Be sure to talk with your doctor before you take any cough medicines. It’s important to make sure anything you take won’t interact with your pain medications.

Question #7: Why Do I Have Ear Pain After a Tonsillectomy?

Answer: The ears connect to the throat by the nervous system, so it’s extremely common to have ear pain after a throat surgery. We call this type of pain referred pain. The pain actually originates where your tonsils were, but the nerves refer it to your ears.

(As an educational side note, because of this phenomenon, ear pain is one of the most common presenting symptoms for throat cancer.) 

Question #8: Why Do I Have a Fever After a Tonsillectomy?

Answer: We most often associate a fever with an infection. But a fever is just part of the body’s general immune response, and it’s closely linked to inflammation. After a surgery, as your body rushes to heal your surgical wounds, inflammation accompanies that healing process and can sometimes result in a low-grade fever.

A low-grade fever is fairly common after a tonsillectomy, especially in children. If the fever persists or becomes a high fever, contact your doctor to make sure it’s not a sign of infection.

Be sure to talk with your surgeon before you or your child take any medication to reduce a fever. The pain medications you’re already taking for the surgery may contain drugs like Tylenol, and it’s very important to make sure you’re not taking too much.

Still Have Unanswered Questions About Tonsillectomy Recovery?

ENT Associates of Lubbock is here to help answer your tonsillectomy questions. We perform tonsillectomies on patients of all ages, and we’ve walked beside all of them in the healing process.

Tonsillectomy recovery is never fun, but we try to make you as comfortable as possible so you can rest well, heal and be back to your normal routine before you know it.

Can a Balloon Sinuplasty Fix a Deviated Septum?

If you have a deviated septum, or if you suspect you do, you might be wondering what the best way to correct it is. Can a balloon sinuplasty fix a deviated septum?

Let’s take a look at exactly what a deviated septum is, how to treat it, and whether balloon sinuplasty can help.

What Is a Deviated Septum?

The nasal septum is the wall that divides your nose into two separate halves. The septum is part bone and part cartilage. When the septum gets off center, or deviates to one side, we call this a deviated septum.

Symptoms of a Deviated Septum

Nasal congestion and difficulty breathing through the nose are the most common symptoms of a deviated septum. If the deviation is bad enough, the patient may notice that one side of their nose is always blocked.

Typically, the more dramatic the deviation, the more dramatic the symptoms. Sometimes, if a deviated septum is severe enough, it can have a “spur,” or a sharp edge that protrudes at an angle and touches the side of the nose. In these cases, any swelling caused by allergies or illness results in more and more pressure on that sharp edge, which can produce headaches.

Nosebleeds, facial pain and snoring or noisy breathing at night can all be symptoms of a deviated septum. Some patients with a deviated septum even sleep on one side to help improve their breathing at night.

Causes of a Deviated Septum

Many people associate a deviated septum with a broken nose. While this is one (unpleasant) way to get a deviated septum, it’s not the only way.

You don’t necessarily have to get your nose broken to wind up with a deviated septum. Sometimes the nose gets hit hard enough that the cartilage dislodges from the bony attachments in the nose, with no breaking involved.

Some people have a naturally deviated septum from birth. They may never know they have it, or they may only start to notice a problem as they get older.

Cartilage never stops growing, and the cartilage in the septum is no exception. As people age, a slight deviation in the septum can become more pronounced as their cartilage grows.

2 key facts you need to know about deviated septums graphic

What Is Balloon Sinuplasty?

Balloon sinuplasty is a minimally invasive office procedure that can help treat chronic sinusitis (sinus infections).

Patients can suffer from chronic sinusitis when the openings of their sinuses are too small. The narrow sinus openings swell shut easily, leading to the buildup of mucus and bacteria responsible for chronic sinus infections.

During balloon sinuplasty, the physician inserts a small balloon into the nose using a tiny tube with a camera and light attached. The doctor then inflates the balloon to open the sinus passageway and allow the sinus to drain more freely.

Cardiologists have used this technology for many years to dilate constricted coronary arteries. Today, ENT doctors have borrowed the technique and applied it along the same lines. Instead of temporarily inflating a balloon to dilate a constricted artery, they use it to widen a constricted nasal passageway.

Balloon sinuplasty is much less invasive than even endoscopic sinus surgery, and it can be done in an office visit with local anesthesia. Balloon sinuplasty also requires significantly less healing time than traditional surgery — usually one to two days.

Who Is a Candidate for Balloon Sinuplasty?

People who experience sinus infections three or more times per year that persist despite medical management can be good candidates for balloon sinuplasty. Other strong candidates include people with chronic sinusitis that never seems to fully resolve or respond to over-the-counter or prescription medications.

For patients who still have severe congestion after medical management, we perform a CT scan to better see what’s going on internally. This helps us determine whether or not balloon sinuplasty will be effective.

Are the Results From Balloon Sinuplasty Permanent?

Yes, balloon sinuplasty is a one-time procedure. The results from balloon sinuplasty provide long-lasting relief from the effects of constricted sinus passages.

Can Balloon Sinuplasty Fix a Deviated Septum?

The simple answer is no, balloon sinuplasty does not correct a deviated septum. The sinuplasty balloon only works on the sinus openings, not the septum; a septoplasty only deals with the septum.

However, though the two procedures are different, they can easily be performed at the same time.

If you have a deviated septum giving you trouble, and you also need balloon sinuplasty, scheduling the procedures together can be a good option. There’s no reason to undergo two separate procedures when it’s easy to fix both problems at the same time.

Do You Have a Deviated Septum?

If symptoms of a deviated septum are interfering with your life and your ability to breathe, give us a call. The entire team at ENT Associates of Lubbock loves helping our patients breathe easier.

The surgeons at ENT Associates of Lubbock are experienced in treating patients who have a deviated septum, those who need balloon sinuplasty, and everyone in between!

Your Ultimate Thyroidectomy Guide (Written by a Surgeon)

If you’re searching for information about a thyroidectomy, you’re probably dealing with thyroid cancer, thyroid nodules, goiter or compression of your trachea. Or you might be experiencing the unpleasant symptoms that come along with an overactive thyroid.

Whatever your reason for researching a thyroidectomy, we want to provide you with all the facts you need.

What exactly is a thyroidectomy? What can you expect before, during and after the procedure? And what if you’re nervous about having a thyroidectomy?

You’ve come to the right place.

What Is a Thyroidectomy?

A thyroidectomy is a surgery to remove part or all of the thyroid gland in the base of your neck.

The thyroid gland sits in front of your voice box and is shaped like a butterfly, with two lobes connected in the middle. It makes and releases thyroid hormones into your bloodstream, playing a huge role in many major body functions like heart rate, metabolism and energy level.

The thyroid gland can develop certain problems. The most common problems that lead to a thyroidectomy include:

  • Thyroid cancer.
  • Suspicious nodules.
  • Noncancerous gland enlargement (goiter).
  • Overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism).

There are two types of thyroidectomies. A total thyroidectomy removes the entire thyroid, while a thyroid lobectomy or partial thyroidectomy only removes part of the thyroid. Which procedure you have depends on what the reason for the surgery is.

common problems graphic

What To Expect Before, During and After Your Thyroidectomy

Preparing for Your Thyroidectomy

We always encourage our patients to research potential surgeries or treatments ahead of time. But as far as physical preparation for a thyroidectomy, there isn’t much you need to do beyond what’s typically recommended for any surgery involving general anesthesia.

You’ll be instructed not to eat or drink anything after midnight the night before your procedure. This is to prevent any food or liquid from coming up and getting into your lungs while you’re under anesthesia, a problem called aspiration. While aspiration is rare, refraining from eating and drinking before surgery can eliminate the risk almost entirely.

You should take a shower and wash your body with antibacterial soap before your surgery. Pay special attention to washing your neck, although your surgeon will make sure your skin is thoroughly disinfected before beginning your thyroidectomy.

Also make sure your surgeon has a thorough picture of your medical history, especially any previous cardiac procedures or history of blood clots. If you’re on a blood thinner, you’ll need to get clearance from your prescribing doctor to stop your medication before surgery.

The Day of Your Thyroidectomy

After you arrive at the surgery center, you’ll be brought back to the preoperative area. A nurse will start an IV in your hand or arm. You’ll have a conversation with your surgeon, anesthesiologist and nurse. Then you’ll receive anesthesia.

After that, you probably won’t remember anything at all!

The length of a thyroidectomy procedure depends on the size of the thyroid and how much is being removed. Experienced, high-volume thyroid surgeons usually take between one and two hours, but family members shouldn’t worry if it takes slightly longer. 

Recovering From Your Thyroidectomy

Most thyroid surgeries take place in an outpatient surgery center. Patients have the procedure in the morning, stay several hours for monitoring after the procedure, and then return home in the afternoon. We typically see patients the next morning in our office to make sure there are no complications.

When you wake up from the procedure, you’ll have Steri-Strips over your surgical scar, which will be small and sutured beneath the skin. You may also have a drain at the surgical site depending on the extent and type of surgery. If so, the drain will be removed the following day.

You’ll be able to take a shower 24 hours after your procedure. When showering, avoid direct pressure from your showerhead on the incision site. You may gently wash the area with soap, but don’t scrub at the incision or any remaining glue. This will fall off naturally over the following week.

You might find that your throat is sore after surgery, not from the thyroidectomy itself but from being intubated. If that’s the case, you can stick to soft food for a day or two to avoid discomfort.

After a total thyroidectomy, your body will need a new source of thyroid hormone. Fortunately, thyroid hormone replacements are widely available and inexpensive. You’ll leave the surgery center with a prescription for a thyroid replacement like Synthroid, generic levothyroxine or Armour Thyroid. Then you simply take your prescribed dose every day.

After a partial thyroidectomy, about one in four patients need thyroid hormone supplementation. Your doctor will work with you to determine whether you need this or not.

You’ll need blood work about six weeks after your surgery to ensure you’re getting the right amount of thyroid hormone. Finding the right dose can take a bit of time and finagling, so don’t worry if your physician adjusts your dose a few times before finding the right level for you.

Sometimes after a thyroidectomy, your parathyroid glands don’t function properly for a few days. The most common result of this is transient hypocalcemia, a short-lived reduction in the calcium in your blood. We recommend that our patients take Tums for a few weeks to make sure their calcium levels stay within normal range.

Nervous About Having a Thyroidectomy?

One of the most important decisions you can make before scheduling a thyroidectomy is to choose an experienced surgeon you trust. Ask them plenty of questions about the procedure. Discuss the risks and benefits of surgery, and ask whether they would suggest any alternatives.

Being nervous before having surgery is very normal. The surgeons at ENT Associates of Lubbock have a great deal of experience performing thyroidectomies. We won’t suggest you have surgery unless it’s absolutely medically necessary. And we’ll do everything we can to set your mind at ease!

Are Your Symptoms Just Allergies, or Do You Need a Doctor?

When you suffer with chronic allergies, you get used to many of the symptoms.

Itchy, watery eyes? You know the drill. Sneezing through every West Texas dirt storm? It’s old hat to you.

But every once in a while, a new symptom makes an appearance, and you’re left scratching your head (and not just your nose).

Can allergies give you a fever? Can allergies cause shortness of breath? Can allergies cause headaches? Do these symptoms mean you need to call a doctor, or is it just another part of the fun of fighting seasonal allergies?

We’ll explore all of this and more.

common questions about allergy symptoms graphic

What Symptoms Can Allergies Cause?

Can Allergies Cause a Fever?

Despite the commonly used term “hay fever,” allergies in and of themselves don’t cause a fever.

Respiratory allergies are really just an overreaction of your immune system to particles in the air. Your immune system’s job is to fight off viruses and bacteria in your environment and keep them from causing an infection. But sometimes your immune system perceives a piece of pollen or dust in the air as a harmful invader, a pathogen that needs to be fought.

Your immune system produces antibodies to destroy the invaders, leading to the runny nose, sneezing and watery eyes we all know so well. But since there’s no actual infection, there’s also no fever.

Allergies could indirectly lead to a fever if the swelling and drainage in your nose end up blocking your sinus openings and causing a sinus infection. If this happens, you should definitely call a doctor to address the infection.

Can Allergies Cause Shortness of Breath?

Yes, allergies can cause shortness of breath in people with allergy-induced asthma.

Allergies produce a different reaction in your lungs than they do in your nose. While your nose can swell, itch and produce extra mucus, your lungs can tighten up and have trouble getting enough oxygen.

Some people have asthma year round, with allergies worsening at certain times of year, and some people only have asthma during allergy season.

If you experience allergy-induced asthma, then in addition to dealing with your nasal allergy symptoms you’ll also need a prescription inhaler for your lungs.

Signs of asthma include a persistent dry cough, shortness of breath, and wheezing. If you’re experiencing any of these, then you should check in with your doctor about your symptoms. 

Can Allergies Cause a Headache?

While allergies don’t directly cause headaches, headaches do accompany allergies fairly often. The swelling in your nose can block off your nasal cavities, causing a difference in air pressure between the air around you and the air in your sinuses. This pressure differential causes that aching pain behind your forehead, cheeks, nose and eyes.

Some people with very narrow sinus passageways can even tell when a cold front is coming in, just like people with a weather-wise ache in a knee or hip!

An occasional headache that resolves quickly probably doesn’t warrant a call to your doctor. But if your headaches become debilitating or persists long enough to interfere with your life, know that an ENT physician can help.

Allergy Treatments for Symptom Control

Allergy symptoms are uncomfortable and can really begin to interfere with your daily activities. Fortunately, there are a variety of treatments you can try at home before you reach out to a doctor.

What Allergy Medications Should You Use?

You can find a host of over-the-counter allergy medications available at your local drugstore.

The most common class of allergy medication is the antihistamine. First-generation antihistamines like Benadryl (diphenhydramine) typically cause drowsiness. Second-generation formulations are non-drowsy and interact with fewer drugs. These include medications like Claritin (loratadine), Zyrtec (cetirizine), Allegra (fexofenadine) and Xyzal (levocetirizine).

Another class of drugs that can help deal with allergy symptoms is the mucolytic, which breaks up mucus and allows the body to clear congestion more easily. Mucinex (guaifenesin) is a good example of a mucolytic.

Topical steroids for allergies include nasal sprays such as Flonase (fluticasone), Rhinocort (budesonide) and Nasonex (mometasone). They are generally well tolerated and work to reduce allergy symptoms like runny nose, swelling and inflammation. However, they do have some fairly common side effects like headaches and nosebleeds.

Finally, you can try using a neti pot or other saline irrigation system to rinse out the nose and sinuses.

What Allergy Medications Should You Avoid Long Term?

Oral decongestants like Sudafed (pseudoephedrine) and topical decongestants like Afrin (oxymetazoline) are great for treating the stuffy nose and sinus pressure of allergies in the short term. However, decongestants should not be used on a long-term basis.

If used for more than a few days, decongestant sprays can cause rebound congestion, actually resulting in worse stuffiness than before! And decongestants in general can be dangerous for people with a history of cardiac problems, increasing blood pressure and interfering with blood pressure medications.

Some allergy medications have a “D” on the end of their names, meaning they include a decongestant along with the primary drug (think Claritin D, Mucinex D or Allegra D). These shouldn’t be used long term either.

Are Your Allergies Causing New or Worsening Symptoms?

If after trying the treatments mentioned above, your allergy symptoms don’t improve after a month or two, it’s helpful to know you don’t have to continue to suffer on your own. Whether your allergies cause shortness of breath, headache, runny nose or sinus infections that lead to fever, there’s help and relief available to you.

ENT doctors have the training and resources to address your allergy symptoms. Reach out to ENT Associates of Lubbock today. We’re experts in helping you get your life back from seasonal allergies!

How To Get Your Taste Back After a Sinus Infection

You’ve been dealing with a nasty sinus infection for a few days. It’s a little annoying, but you’re pushing through.

Then it happens. You’ve been looking forward to your favorite lasagna all week. You sit down to the special meal ready to relish it. But that first bite… Oh no! It’s flavorless mush! You’ve completely lost your taste!

What’s happening? Can a sinus infection cause that? Do you have COVID-19?

If you’ve ever found yourself wondering how to get your taste back after a sinus infection, look no further.

What Happens During a Sinus Infection?

The sinuses are just air-filled spaces in your skull. Scientists aren’t completely sure why they exist, but they do lighten the skull, allow the voice to reverberate, and produce mucus that lubricates the inside of the nose.

Your sinuses connect to your nose by small drainage openings called ostia. Ostia are how air flows through the nose into the sinuses.

Though your sinuses are usually filled with air, they can become blocked and fill with fluid and mucus. When the fluid and mucus stick around long enough, bacteria can begin to flourish.

Now, this normally air-filled cavity becomes a fluid-filled pocket of infection.

If you experience persistent nasal allergies, for example, the frequent inflammation may lead to blocked passages and stopped up sinuses — the perfect environment for a sinus infection.

how to get taste back after sinus infection

Why Do I Lose My Taste During a Sinus Infection?

Unlike a novel coronavirus infection, a sinus infection doesn’t usually cause a direct loss of taste. Instead, the sense of smell is the first to go.

Sinus infections cause inflammation within the nasal cavities and passageways. This swelling blocks the flow of air through your nose and prevents it from reaching the olfactory nerve that’s responsible for your sense of smell.

Since air carries odor particles, when it can’t reach your olfactory nerve, you’re not going to be able to smell anything.

Because your sense of taste relies so heavily upon your ability to smell, the inflammation caused by a sinus infection can lead to a dulled sense of taste.

How Can I Get My Sense of Taste Back After a Sinus Infection?

The best place to start is focusing on reducing the inflammation in your nasal passages. If you can open up your sinuses and facilitate drainage, your smell (and therefore your taste) will return faster.

Saline irrigations are helpful to wash out signs of infection and clear inflammation. You can purchase over-the-counter options like NeilMed Sinus Rinse at any pharmacy.

Topical steroid sprays like Flonase can also help to reduce inflammation.

If necessary, an ENT doctor can prescribe a compounded irrigation treatment. This is much like a saline rinse, but the solution also contains antibiotics or steroids to treat the sinus infection more aggressively.

How Long Will It Take To Regain My Sense of Taste?

Because everyone heals at different rates, there’s unfortunately no set amount of time in which you can expect to regain your senses of taste and smell. But we do know that the faster you open your sinuses and clear the infection, the faster your healing will occur. With the proper treatment, you could be enjoying that lasagna again within a few days, or it may take up to a few weeks.

Rarely, it can take several months to regain your sense of taste, but this usually results from chronic sinus infections that are harder to treat.

How Can I Prevent Loss of Taste in the Future?

Preventing sinus infections from developing in the first place is the best way to ensure you keep enjoying your meals.

If you’re prone to seasonal allergies, make regular sinus irrigation a habit during the seasons that affect you the most.

You may also want to talk to an ENT doctor about treating your allergies more aggressively with prescription allergy medications to prevent the swelling that blocks the sinuses.

Have You Lost Your Sense of Taste?

Today, if you’ve lost your sense of taste, it’s likely that your first thought is that you might have COVID-19. While COVID-19 certainly can cause a loss of taste and smell, a sinus infection could also be the culprit. The quickest way to tell the difference and make sure you’re not spreading the coronavirus to those around you is to get tested.

If a cold or allergy has caused a nasal blockage and loss of taste, then reducing inflammation is key in the fight against a sinus infection. If you’ve tried all the home remedies and you’re still not finding relief, it’s time to get help.

Our team will work with you to find a treatment plan that’s right for your circumstances. Don’t let a sinus infection keep you from enjoying your favorite foods. Give ENT Associates of Lubbock a call today.

7 Reasons Your Throat Is Burning (Plus When To Call a Doctor)

Maybe the burn in your throat came on gradually, or maybe it appeared out of nowhere.

Regardless of how it began, feeling like your throat is on fire is no fun for anyone.

But what could cause a burning sensation in your nose or throat? And once you have this unpleasant symptom, what should you do to treat it?

Let’s unpack some of the main causes of a burning throat and see what you should do in each case.

why does my throat burn

Why Does My Throat Burn? 7 Possible Causes

Cause #1: Postnasal Drainage

Postnasal drainage happens when the body produces more mucus than usual. Rhinitis, which is inflammation in the nose that causes increased mucus production, commonly causes postnasal drainage.

Postnasal drainage occurs because the excess mucus in your nose has to go somewhere. It either comes out the front in a classic runny nose, or it can drip down your throat. This drainage irritates your throat and causes a burning sensation.

To ease the burning, you need to treat the rhinitis that’s causing the drainage. Since allergies often cause rhinitis, an over-the-counter antihistamine like Claritin, Zyrtec or Allegra could help. Topical nasal sprays like Flonase, Nasacort and Rhinocort are also good options.

Cause #2: Laryngopharyngeal Reflux

Another common cause of burning pain in your throat is laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR).

When most of us think of reflux, we think of gastroesophageal reflux, like indigestion or heartburn. In these cases, the burning pain is more in the chest.

LPR occurs when acid reflux comes all the way up into the throat, where it can cause irritation to the voice box and the back of the throat.

In addition to throat burning, LPR can cause a dry throat, a feeling of needing to clear the throat, or a feeling like something is lodged in the throat. Patients frequently complain about a lump in their throat that won’t go away.

Dietary modifications are the first change to explore for relief from reflux. Spicy and greasy foods, tomato products, and caffeine are some of the worst offenders. Eliminating these foods is a great place to start!

It’s a good idea to avoid eating for two hours before bed. You can also try elevating the head of your bed, since lying in a reclined position tends to make reflux worse.

If these measures don’t improve your reflux, you can also try medications like Nexium, Prilosec or other over-the-counter treatments.

Cause #3: Pharyngitis

Pharyngitis is an inflammation of the throat tissues. Pharyngitis can be caused by an allergic reaction to something you ate or an environmental allergen like pollen. Throat inflammation can also come from a viral or bacterial infection like strep throat.

Treatment for this burning depends on the cause. For allergies, taking antihistamines and avoiding the allergen can help. A viral infection requires general self-care: chicken soup, plenty of fluids and lots of rest.

For a bacterial infection like strep throat, see a physician to get a prescription for antibiotics.

Cause #4: Thrush

Thrush, a fungal infection in the mouth or throat, can cause a painful burning sensation. Though thrush is more common in babies, adults using antibiotics or steroid sprays are also vulnerable.

People who use steroid inhalers have a higher risk of developing oral thrush. Rinsing your mouth with water after using your inhaler can help prevent a thrush-friendly environment from developing.

Additionally, if you’re prescribed an antibiotic, talk to your doctor about adding a probiotic to help restore some of your body’s healthy bacteria to prevent the growth of thrush.

Cause #5: Vitamin Deficiencies

Although rare, lower than average levels of certain vitamins can cause a burning sensation as well, though usually in the mouth. One study found a correlation between abnormally low levels of iron and vitamin B12 and a burning mouth.

This one will take a bit more investigation. If you think your mouth burning might be due to vitamin deficiencies, talk to your doctor about getting blood work done. If your lab work reveals any vitamin deficiencies, your care provider can counsel you on necessary dietary changes and supplements to add to your daily routine.

Cause #6: Burning Mouth Syndrome

Burning mouth syndrome is just that: a condition where patients have an inexplicable sensation of burning in their mouth. There’s no injury, no infection, no obvious cause present, but the mouth still burns.

While relatively rare, burning mouth syndrome mostly affects women over the age of 40. Other symptoms include burning of the tongue, lips and roof of the mouth.

Burning mouth syndrome may be a form of neuralgia — nerve pain with no discernable cause. In other words, the nerves send pain signals to the brain even though nothing is hurting them.

If you haven’t been able to find the cause of your burning mouth, talk to your ENT doctor or dentist. They can help you investigate the source and identify whether it could be burning mouth syndrome.

Cause #7: Eosinophilic Esophagitis

Eosinophilic esophagitis is a chronic inflammation of the esophagus caused by an allergic reaction or immune response. A large number of white blood cells called eosinophils infiltrate the esophageal lining. This can cause swelling and burning in the esophagus and up into the throat.

A gastrointestinal specialist performs the tests necessary to diagnose this condition and can recommend the best course of treatment for your case.

How Can I Prevent My Throat From Burning?

Preventing throat burning depends on addressing the root causes of the symptoms. Good oral hygiene is key in preventing some of these conditions. Make a habit of brushing your teeth, scraping your tongue, and using mouthwash twice a day.

If you get sick, take care of yourself and treat the source of your illness. And if you have allergies, talk with your doctor about the best ways to manage them to prevent a burning throat.

Throat Burning? Reach Out for Help!

If you’re dealing with a burning throat, you don’t have to suffer. Our physicians at ENT Associates of Lubbock know how to address mouth, nose, and throat burning, and can help you find the best course of treatment for your pain.

Reach out to schedule an appointment to discuss your treatment options today.

Inverted Papilloma: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Some health conditions are so rare that most people have never even heard of them. But when you’re diagnosed with one of these conditions, you find yourself wanting as much information as possible!

It’s likely you’d never heard of an inverted papilloma until an ENT doctor told you they suspected you have one.

So let’s look at some basics: what is an inverted papilloma? What causes it? What are its symptoms? How is it treated? And after treatment, what’s the outlook?

What Is an Inverted Papilloma?

First things first! An inverted papilloma is a rare, usually benign (noncancerous) growth inside the nasal cavity or paranasal sinuses. Inverted papillomas are responsible for as little as 0.5% of all tumors that begin in the nose.

Inverted papillomas are the most common type of the three kinds of Schneiderian papillomas. Other Schneiderian papillomas grow out into the nasal cavity and sinuses in “fingerlike” projections. The inverted type, however, grows inward toward the bone and surrounding tissue.

The majority of inverted papillomas are noncancerous, but a small percentage (between 5% and 15%) contain squamous cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer.

If left untreated, some inverted papillomas can become cancerous after several years.

inverted papilloma

Risk Factors and Symptoms for Inverted Papillomas

Inverted papillomas are fairly uncommon, and more study is needed to determine the exact causes and risk factors for this condition. Here’s some of what we do know.

Risk Factors for Inverted Papillomas

The exact cause for an inverted papilloma is currently unknown. Some suggest a possible connection to allergies, chronic sinusitis and viral infections. White men between the ages of 40 and 70 seem to be the most susceptible to developing inverted papillomas.

Other potential risk factors may include nicotine usage, chronic inflammatory illnesses, and an infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV).

Symptoms of Inverted Papillomas

Inverted papillomas can be mistaken for recurring sinus infections because of the similarities in their symptoms.

Inverted papillomas can cause nasal congestion, nasal draining or postnasal drip, and a small amount of bleeding from the nose. Other symptoms may include facial pressure and pain, headache and a decreased sense of smell.

Nasal symptoms are usually unilateral, meaning they only occur on the side of the nose with the papilloma.

Many people with inverted papillomas, however, don’t report any symptoms out of the ordinary. In these cases, a doctor usually discovers the papilloma while examining the inside of their nose.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Inverted Papillomas

If your ENT doctor suspects you have an inverted papilloma, they will likely use an endoscope to examine the suspicious structure. They may also take a biopsy so that a lab can differentiate the papilloma from a nasal polyp, and also to determine whether any cancer cells are present. Examination under a microscope is the only definitive way to confirm the diagnosis of inverted papilloma.

The doctor might also schedule you for a CT scan or an MRI to determine the extent of the papilloma and to better visualize what’s going on.

Treatment of inverted papillomas usually involves endoscopic surgery, which is surgery performed through the nostril with the help of a tiny camera. This surgery is noninvasive and leaves no scar since the papilloma is removed through the nostril.

The papilloma must be removed in its entirety to prevent it from continuing to grow. The camera helps to confirm all the papilloma tissue is gone.

Your surgeon may sometimes need to perform more than one procedure in order to remove the entire papilloma. And because inverted papillomas grow inward toward the bone, they sometimes cause more invasive problems and require another surgery to resect the entire area.

Prognosis After Inverted Papilloma Removal

Inverted papillomas do, unfortunately, have a fairly high rate of recurrence. Though most instances happen earlier, some papillomas have recurred up to eight years after surgery. For this reason, it’s important to stay in touch with your ENT doctor to watch for signs that the papilloma has returned.

Think You Might Have an Inverted Papilloma?

Although inverted papillomas are rare, they can be frustrating for those who deal with them.

Our team at ENT Associates of Lubbock is here to provide evidence-based, compassionate care for those dealing with inverted papillomas or a host of other ear, nose and throat concerns.

If you’re experiencing the symptoms discussed above, reach out today to schedule a consultation with one of our ENT doctors. We look forward to hearing from you!

Are Your Symptoms Human Papillomavirus or Throat Cancer?

Since the release of the first vaccine for human papillomavirus in 2006, we’ve heard a lot more about HPV and the health conditions linked to it.

Women are encouraged to get screened for HPV at their yearly gynecologist appointments since an HPV infection can lead to cervical cancer. But not everyone knows that HPV can lead to cancer in the throat as well.

This may leave you wondering, “What are the symptoms of human papillomavirus? How do I know if I have HPV? Could my HPV cause throat cancer?”

What Is the Human Papillomavirus and What Are Its Symptoms?

The human papillomavirus, usually referred to as HPV, is a specific type of virus.

There are more than 100 different strains of HPV, and most of them are harmless. An estimated 79 million Americans currently have some form of HPV infection, with another 14 million expected in the next year. Most of the time, though, HPV doesn’t cause any symptoms.

When you catch the flu virus, it usually causes you to feel pretty sick and have specific symptoms. Those symptoms let you know you probably have the flu. But since most people with HPV are asymptomatic, they won’t know they have the virus unless they get tested for it specifically.

You can’t feel HPV in your body, and your immune system can clear most types of HPV over time. But sometimes the virus doesn’t go away and instead reproduces, eventually leading to symptoms you notice.

For example, HPV can cause warts on various body parts. And unlike other viruses, HPV can cause several types of cancer, like cervical cancer and throat cancer. So while you won’t feel the presence of the virus itself, you could very well feel the symptoms of a cancer caused by the virus.

human papillomavirus throat cancer symptoms

The Real Question: Do I Just Have a Sore Throat or Is It HPV Throat Cancer?

The real question isn’t whether you have HPV, but whether you have a run-of-the-mill sore throat or HPV throat cancer symptoms.

Historically, smoking and high levels of alcohol consumption have been the biggest risk factors for throat cancer. Recently, though, we’ve seen a trend of younger patients being diagnosed with throat cancer. In fact, up to 70% of oropharyngeal (mouth and throat) cancers are now associated with HPV!

Anyone exposed to HPV can develop HPV-associated throat cancer, but heterosexual males are most at risk because of current sexual practices in our society.

What Is Throat Cancer?

Cancer happens when normal cells in the body replicate and grow out of control. Most laryngeal (throat) cancers are a type of cancer known as “squamous cell carcinoma.” Squamous cells are the type of cells that line the back of the throat, where this cancer starts.

Throat cancer can originate in several areas, but most throat cancers caused by HPV start in the tonsils or on the back of the tongue.

The Connection Between Human Papillomavirus and Throat Cancer

You can’t feel HPV if it doesn’t cause your body’s cells to start growing out of control. But if HPV does lead to cancer, these are some human papillomavirus throat cancer symptoms you may notice.

Spitting or Coughing Up Blood

When throat cancer originates at the back of the tongue, it can sometimes cause blood to appear in your saliva. When the cancer is farther down, in the voice box, it can cause you to cough up blood.

If you notice blood in your saliva or after a cough, especially with no apparent cause, you should talk to your ENT doctor to investigate what’s happening.

Throat Pain

Cancer at the back of the throat can make it difficult or painful to swallow. This pain can also radiate to the ear.

While throat pain is common with viral illnesses and strep throat, pain from oropharyngeal cancer will persist beyond the length of a typical illness. You also probably won’t experience a fever or other symptoms of acute illness.

A Mass in Your Neck

It’s not uncommon to feel swollen lymph nodes in your neck when you’re fighting a cold or the flu. But if a mass in your neck sticks around beyond the duration of an illness, or if it isn’t associated with an illness at all, give your doctor a call. Sometimes throat cancer doesn’t cause any other initial symptoms, and this is the first sign people notice.

A mass in your neck doesn’t necessarily mean you have cancer, but you should schedule an appointment with your ENT doctor to see what’s going on.

Is It Time To Call a Doctor?

Any of the symptoms listed above warrant a call to an ENT doctor. While each symptom on the list can have other causes, remember that the symptoms of cancer don’t come and go. Cancer symptoms begin, persist and usually get worse.

Any lingering cough, continued spitting up of blood, pain in the throat or pain radiating to the ear, or a mass in your neck should prompt you to schedule a checkup.

If you’re worried you may have human papillomavirus throat cancer symptoms, contact ENT Associates of Lubbock today to schedule an appointment. Our physicians have the experience and knowledge to find the root cause of your symptoms and help determine the best course of treatment for you.

Why It’s Dangerous To Leave Your Sleep Apnea Unchecked

Many people have heard of sleep apnea and associate it with annoying problems like snoring and tiredness. But what about other side effects of this condition? And, more importantly, is sleep apnea dangerous?

A Quick Explanation of Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type of sleep apnea. It happens when there’s a blockage somewhere in your airway while you’re trying to sleep.

Muscle tone is much lower when you’re asleep than when you’re awake. Even the muscles of your airway relax. This relaxation can cause the tongue and tonsils to fall back and block off your airway. For people with larger bodies, fatty tissue in the neck can also put pressure on the airway.

An obstructed airway keeps your lungs from getting the airflow they need to function properly. It can also cause your heart to work overtime as it attempts to make up for the lack of oxygen from your lungs.

is sleep apnea dangerous

Is Sleep Apnea Dangerous?

Many people don’t view sleep apnea as being dangerous, but over time, the effects can be devastating. Obstructive sleep apnea poses two levels of danger: short-term and long-term.

Short-Term Consequences of Sleep Apnea

The short-term consequences of sleep apnea occur immediately, rather than building up over time. “Short-term” doesn’t mean they go away, however. Unfortunately, these symptoms remain until you receive effective treatment for your sleep apnea.

Sleep Deprivation

Sleep apnea can leave you feeling exhausted. Even if you’re in bed for a full eight or nine hours, you may only get twenty minutes of true, restful sleep. Hitting the snooze button doesn’t make you feel any better, and your exhaustion follows you throughout the day.

You may notice you drink more and more coffee just to function normally, feel miserable during the workday, or nod off at inopportune times. This level of sleep deprivation isn’t the same as missing an hour of rest here or there.

Car Accidents

Any kind of sleepiness can affect your operating of heavy machinery, including your car. People experiencing sleep deprivation are six times more likely to be involved in a vehicle collision than their well-rested counterparts.

Loss of Focus

It’s much harder to focus on the task in front of you when you’re not well-rested. You may find yourself asking coworkers to repeat themselves multiple times or zoning out as you try to read an email. Tasks that normally take little effort suddenly become huge chores because you just can’t concentrate. Sleep deprivation that leads to poor concentration can seriously impact your performance at work.

Lowered Immune Function

Even your immune system is compromised when you don’t get enough sleep. You don’t heal as easily without enough rest, and you’re more susceptible to illnesses. It’s also harder to get healthy and stay healthy when you’re too tired to exercise or cook a healthy meal.

Relationship Problems

Lack of sleep impacts your relationships, and it can lead to depression, anxiety and other mental health problems. And since sleep apnea usually leads to loud snoring, it can also make your partner miserable!

Long-Term Consequences of Sleep Apnea

The short-term consequences of sleep apnea can compound to cause further problems, of course. For example, if your body doesn’t heal well, a common cold or flu can more easily turn into something else, like pneumonia. But sleep apnea also causes other, more serious long-term problems when left untreated.

Damage to Organs

Because sleep apnea keeps you from breathing properly while you sleep, your body is repeatedly oxygen-deprived throughout the night. A lack of oxygen to any part of the body is bad news, but this takes a particular toll on your heart and lungs.

High Blood Pressure

People with untreated sleep apnea are four times more likely to have high blood pressure, also called hypertension. Hypertension can eventually lead to heart failure as well as other complications.

Heart Attack

Severe sleep apnea sufferers are twice as likely to have a heart attack as others.

Stroke

Those with severe sleep apnea are 1.8 times more likely to have a stroke.

Where Do I Start if I Think I Might Have Sleep Apnea?

The first step in getting evaluated for sleep apnea is to visit your doctor and tell them your concerns. Your doctor will then order a sleep study.

A sleep study is the only way to diagnose sleep apnea. It can be done either in your home or at a sleep lab. Although the technology used in a sleep lab may be a little more accurate, you might sleep better in your own home. Which setting you choose is up to you and your doctor.

After your test, your doctor can talk to you about your results and give recommendations for your specific situation. Together, you’ll decide on what treatment is right for you.

Some recommendations your doctor might make include:

  • weight loss
  • oral appliance therapy
  • a CPAP machine
  • Inspire

It’s difficult to make decisions when you’re exhausted. But the decision about where to get treatment for your sleep apnea doesn’t have to be difficult.

ENT Associates of Lubbock offers a number of solutions for your obstructive sleep apnea. Regardless of the age of the patient or the severity of the sleep apnea, we can help. We treat the whole family, and we look forward to meeting with you!

Book a consultation today to discuss your sleep apnea with one of our experienced ENT doctors.

What Are the Symptoms of Eustachian Tube Dysfunction?

Do you ever feel like you’re hearing the world from underwater? Or maybe your ears feel like you’ve been on an airplane and you just can’t get them to “pop.”

If so, you may be dealing with a case of eustachian tube dysfunction.

What Is the Eustachian Tube?

The eustachian tube is a tiny passage that connects the middle ear to the back of the nose.

Normally this tube stays open and helps to equalize the air pressure in the middle ear. It also allows any excess fluid from the middle ear to drain to the back of your nose and down your throat.

But when this tube becomes blocked due to inflammation or other causes, fluid builds up in the middle ear. Air can build up as well, since the eustachian tube is failing to maintain equal pressure.

This imbalance of fluid and air can lead to a group of symptoms that healthcare professionals call eustachian tube dysfunction.

What Are the Most Common Eustachian Tube Dysfunction Symptoms?

Patients with eustachian tube dysfunction often have muffled hearing, feeling like they’re hearing underwater or in a barrel. Some people can even hear water sloshing or bubbling in their middle ear!

Friends and loved ones might point out that you’re talking louder than normal. This is because when your middle ear is full, you can’t hear yourself talk as well. If you think you might be experiencing hearing loss, but it was very sudden in onset, it’s likely that the loss isn’t permanent.

Patients also often describe a feeling of fullness or pressure in their ear, though it’s not usually painful. One woman said she hadn’t felt pressure that intense since childbirth! (She even asked for an epidural.)

Trying to yawn, swallow, or chew gum to relieve the pressure will usually fail. All these methods to “pop” your ears rely on the eustachian tube functioning properly.

eustachian tube dysfunction symptoms

What Can I Do at Home To Manage My Eustachian Tube Dysfunction Symptoms?

Eustachian tube dysfunction symptoms can be very uncomfortable. If you begin to experience ear pain rather than just pressure, you should contact your ENT doctor right away. At that point you might be dealing with a middle ear infection.

But if you’re just experiencing the other symptoms mentioned above, you can try a variety of over-the-counter solutions before picking up the phone.

Antihistamines, decongestants and topical steroids can provide relief from eustachian tube dysfunction symptoms. These medications are helpful because many of the symptoms of eustachian tube dysfunction are due to swelling and congestion in the nasopharynx (the back of the nose).

A technique called autoinsufflation can also help in clearing the eustachian tube and restoring a bit of balance between the middle ear and the nasopharynx. To try this, pinch your nose and exhale gently through your mouth, but with your mouth closed. This technique can be a helpful way to release the pressure behind the eardrum.

We usually recommend first trying to decongest the nasopharynx area and seeing if that helps to improve your symptoms. If your symptoms persist after a month, or if they become more severe or painful, you’ll probably need medical help to deal with your eustachian tube dysfunction.

When Should I Call a Doctor?

If you’ve been dealing with pressure, fullness and that annoying underwater feeling for more than a month without any sign of relief, it’s time to call an ENT doctor.

Even if over-the-counter medications temporarily relieve the symptoms, if they return as soon as the medications wear off, you should still see a physician.

What Treatments Might an ENT Suggest?

It’s possible that a prescription-strength decongestant or topical steroid may solve your eustachian tube dysfunction. But some people (like children, people with allergies, or people who smoke) are more susceptible to eustachian tube dysfunction than others, and may have more persistent cases.

When the problem isn’t remedied by medications, even prescription strength, other options are available.

In cases like these, ear tube placement might help. Ear tubes open a tiny pathway between your middle ear and your outer ear. This equalizes pressure in your ear and allows any excess fluid to drain through your outer ear.

Ear tubes may not be right for everyone, or they may fall out over time. In these cases, eustachian tube balloon dilation can be a great option.

In eustachian tube balloon dilation, an ENT doctor inserts a small balloon into the eustachian tube and inflates it. This opens up the part of the tube that tends to collapse.

This short procedure involves very little risk or pain and has a high success rate. And because the balloon enters through the nose, there’s no cutting or scarring!

Dealing With Symptoms of Eustachian Tube Dysfunction?

If any of the above symptoms sound familiar and won’t respond to your go-to home remedies, call ENT Associates of Lubbock. Dr. Cuthbertson and Dr. Scolaro both have extensive experience treating eustachian tube dysfunction.

Make an appointment for a consultation to talk about your particular case and how we can best help you treat it!

Inspire for Sleep Apnea: Say Goodbye to Your CPAP Machine

CPAP machines are designed to help sleep apnea sufferers stop snoring, breathe more deeply, and get a good night’s sleep. That sounds pretty good!

And for many CPAP users, that’s how the story goes. Unfortunately, though, other patients with sleep apnea find CPAP machines difficult to use.

Transporting a CPAP machine can be inconvenient, particularly if you travel often. Sometimes the air that’s meant to help you breathe can dry out your eyes or fill up your stomach, leading to bloating and discomfort.

Some CPAP users develop a headache from having the mask strapped to their head too tightly. Others experience anxiety from wearing the CPAP mask, particularly those who suffer from claustrophobia. Some CPAP users even throw their mask on the floor without knowing it.

If you’re not a natural back-sleeper, changing your sleep position can be hard! And let’s face it; a mask and a loud machine don’t exactly set the stage for romance.

Inspire is the modern solution to sleep apnea for people who can’t tolerate a CPAP machine.

What Happens Physiologically During Sleep Apnea?

The vast majority of cases of sleep apnea are caused by an obstructed airway.

During the day, your muscles stay toned and you hold yourself upright. You can consciously compensate for any small airway blockage.

But at night when you’re reclined and sleeping, your muscles relax. Your tongue falls backwards and your tonsils fall inwards, and this can obstruct your airway. And since you’re asleep, you can’t consciously do anything to deal with this obstruction.

This is obstructive sleep apnea, which blocks the breath from entering your airway while you sleep.

what-is-inspire-sleep-apnea

Oxygen Flow to the Lungs Is Restricted

The lungs function quite differently than any other organ in the body.

When another organ is low on oxygen, its blood vessels dilate (get wider) to allow more blood — and the oxygen it carries — to enter.

Lungs, on the other hand, function in the opposite way.

Normally, blood flows through your lungs to pick up oxygen and deliver it to the rest of your body. But when some part of your lungs doesn’t get enough oxygen, the blood vessels in that area constrict (clamp down) to reduce how much blood runs through. Your body attempts to shunt that blood to a different part of the lung in an attempt to pick up more oxygen.

This efficient system usually works incredibly well for the body. But sleep apnea throws a wrench in the works.

With sleep apnea, no part of your lung is receiving enough oxygen, so all the blood vessels in your lungs start clamping down! This forces your heart to work extra hard to force blood into an area that’s trying to keep blood out.

Over time, this “battle of the blood” can lead to serious complications like pulmonary hypertension and heart failure.

How Can Inspire for Sleep Apnea Help?

The key to treating sleep apnea is to remove the obstruction that’s blocking the airflow.

So when we find a visible blockage, like swelling, congestion or enlarged tonsils, we work to eliminate those blockages first. If needed, a CPAP machine combats sleep apnea by using forced air to blow past any obstructions in the airway.

Inspire, on the other hand, attempts to recreate your body’s natural sleep state. Inspire uses your body’s own musculature and nerve signals to restore functional tone to your airway at night. This mimics the way you breathe when you’re awake and upright.

Common Patient Concerns About Inspire

As with any surgery or medical procedure, patients may have understandable apprehensions about Inspire. Let’s address some of the more common concerns we hear in our ENT practice.

How Long Has Inspire Been on the Market?

Inspire was originally approved for patient use by the FDA in April 2014.

Does Inspire Actually Work?

While it’s impossible to know with complete certainty how a specific patient will react to a procedure, Inspire has a pretty impressive track record.

After a patient gets Inspire, 90% of bed partners report no snoring or only very light snoring. Patients experience a 79% reduction in episodes of sleep apnea each hour. And 94% of patients say they would recommend Inspire to their fellow snorers.

Are There Studies That Prove That Inspire Works?

Yes, studies show that Inspire is effective. The first study of Inspire began in 2010, and the one-year results of that study were published in the New England Journal of Medicine. A five-year follow-up study was published by the American Academy of Otolaryngology: Head and Neck Surgery Foundation.

The ADHERE registry was originally established to follow Inspire patients after their surgery, both in the United States and abroad. This registry shows clinical data compatible with the studies mentioned above.

How Long Do the Effects of Inspire Last?

The battery inside the Inspire device lasts about 11 years, so your doctor will need to change it out about once a decade.

The battery change is a surgical procedure, but not as complex as the original placement. Other than this routine maintenance, Inspire works on its own to manage your sleep apnea indefinitely.

What’s the Surgery Like?

The surgery itself takes about two and a half hours. It’s an outpatient procedure, so you can expect to go home the same day. (You will need to have someone available to drive you home.)

Most patients are fully recovered within about a week after surgery.

Is There Anything Else I Should Know?

Your ENT doctor will take you through a process of informed consent, letting you know about all known risks and benefits of the Inspire procedure.

Inspire received full approval from the FDA in 2014, but it’s good to note that Inspire is not FDA-approved for an MRI of the chest or abdomen. It is approved for MRIs of the limbs and head.

Inspire at ENT Associates of Lubbock

At ENT Associates of Lubbock, we have successfully placed many Inspire devices for a wide variety of patients. The results have been the same for male and female, young and old, moderate cases to severe sleep apnea. Their quality of sleep — and life — has improved dramatically.

Whether you’re dealing with untreated sleep apnea or are tired of fighting with your CPAP machine at night, give us a call. Our ENT doctors can help you determine if Inspire is right for you!

6 Snoring Surgery Options That Could End Your Snoring

Have you ever woken yourself up with your own snoring? That can be a jarring experience! But that’s not even the most common reason patients come to our office for help with their snoring.

The top reason is actually complaints from their partner!

No one wants to go through a medical procedure. But if you (or your partner) are concerned about your snoring, it’s good to know that surgery could help.

What Should I Try Before Considering Snoring Surgery?

Anytime we have a patient complaining of snoring, we want to address the root cause, not just ease the symptom.

To start, we take a look inside your nose to identify any obvious obstructions. If you’re dealing with nasal or sinus congestion, we’ll try to address those with medications, such as decongestants. These can be over-the-counter or prescription, depending on how severe your congestion is.

If we see any other obstructions, like nasal polyps or an anatomical abnormality, we’ll discuss with you how we can correct these.

We’ll also inspect your throat to see if there’s anything that could be contributing to obstructing airflow while you sleep. For example, enlarged tonsils are a common cause of snoring, especially in children.

We might also discuss weight loss if it seems like your weight could be contributing to snoring. Fatty tissue in the neck can put pressure on the airway, leading to a noisier snooze. Losing a few pounds can sometimes have a dramatic effect on snoring!

snoring surgery

What Are the Types of Surgery for Snoring?

There are several surgeries that can help with snoring. Some specifically treat snoring, and some treat another condition and result in relief from snoring as a pleasant side effect.

Let’s look at some of these surgeries: three that we perform today, and three that we think are better left behind.

Glossectomy

Believe it or not, years ago it was common to cut away a portion of the back of the tongue to prevent snoring. Fortunately, we don’t do this anymore. It was about as painful as it sounds!

Pillar Implant

With a pillar implant procedure, the surgeon inserts several small pillars into your soft palate (the back of the roof of your mouth). These pillars are meant to keep your soft palate from collapsing and causing airway obstruction.

Unfortunately, this is a temporary solution, and it’s not always effective. That’s why we don’t prefer to perform this surgery, or the following procedure, in our practice.

Somnoplasty

Somnoplasty is a procedure that uses radiofrequency waves to shrink the tissues in the nose and mouth. The results are also temporary and, again, not always effective.

This would likely be a last resort for someone who has tried a number of other solutions without success.

While these two procedures could theoretically offer temporary relief from snoring to a small percentage of patients, they aren’t something we offer at ENT Lubbock.

Tonsillectomy

Removing the tonsils can be extremely helpful in snoring reduction for people with large tonsils. This is one of the most successful surgeries in treating children with sleep apnea and snoring. For children, the recovery is generally pretty easy.

The recovery time for an adult tonsillectomy can be more difficult. Plan to take two or three weeks to recover if you and your ENT doctor choose the tonsillectomy route for your snoring surgery.

Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP)

This surgery first removes the tonsils if they haven’t already been removed. Several small incisions are then made in the soft palate. When the surgeon sutures these incisions, they tighten the palate, making it less likely to interfere with airflow.

A UPPP can be extremely helpful for a patient who experiences snoring because of loose tissue in the soft palate.

Despite how it looks, the most difficult part of this procedure isn’t the pronunciation. The recovery can be painful, and an overnight hospital stay for pain management is generally required.

Inspire

Inspire is a small device that’s similar to a pacemaker. It includes a sensor that sits in your chest, detecting when you’re trying to take a breath. When it does, a probe sends a gentle electrical signal to the nerve that controls your tongue. Your tongue then moves out of your airway to allow you to breathe without restriction.

Inspire is well-accepted, well-documented and highly effective for stopping snoring. This little pacemaker-type device can lead to a 90% reduction in snoring, and a 100% reduction in your partner leaving the bedroom!

Inspire is an outpatient procedure and requires about a week to recover. As with any surgery or implanted device, there is also a small risk of infection.

What’s the Outlook After a Snoring Surgery?

The prognosis after these surgeries is excellent, assuming that there’s a good match between the right patient and the right procedure.

It’s important to address the root cause of your snoring, so be sure to talk to your ENT doctor about whether any of these snoring surgeries could be the right fit for you.

If your bed partner has been elbowing you at night and encouraging you to get help for your snoring, go ahead and reach out! At ENT Associates of Lubbock, we’re experts in getting you the help you need to stop snoring.

What Is Inspire for Sleep Apnea — Top Questions Answered

A continuous positive airway pressure machine (more commonly known as a CPAP machine) can seem like a dream come true at first. No more will you have to deal with the restless nights, the lack of REM sleep, and the daytime sleepiness.

But sometimes your CPAP dream can turn into a nightmare.

Your mask doesn’t fit right. The air leaks. It dries out your eyes. You’re uncomfortable. The machine is noisy, and the mask leaves grooves on your face. The air blows into your stomach, making you bloated. It dries out your mouth, so you drink more at night and have to get up to use the restroom.

On top of all that, your partner isn’t sleeping well now either because of your tossing, turning and fidgeting with this noisy machine!

How can you win the battle of the mask while still getting the sleep you need? Enter Inspire, the maskless solution for sleep apnea.

What Happens in the Body with Sleep Apnea?

There are two categories of sleep apnea.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

The vast majority of sleep apnea cases are classified as obstructive sleep apnea. The body tries to breathe, but — as the name suggests — air can’t get to the lungs because of an obstruction in the airway. Usually, the obstruction involves the tonsils, the tongue or the soft palate (the roof of the back of the mouth) relaxing enough to block the back of the throat.

Another cause of obstructive sleep apnea is sometimes excess body weight that collapses the airway during sleep.

Central Sleep Apnea

A smaller number of people have central sleep apnea. This is caused by a problem with communication between the brain and the body. The brain simply fails to trigger the body to take a breath. Central sleep apnea is much less common than obstructive sleep apnea.

inspire sleep

Why Is Sleep Apnea a Problem?

You might be asking, “So what if I snore a little? Is it actually dangerous to my health?”

The answer is, it depends. A little bit of snoring can be harmless, but true sleep apnea is very dangerous. In the short term, untreated sleep apnea can cause inadequate sleep, decreased productivity, daytime fatigue, and poor performance at work.

It can even affect your driving. People with untreated sleep apnea are six times more likely to be involved in a car crash! When you multiply that by more than 20 million Americans affected by sleep apnea, suddenly the roads look a lot more dangerous.

The long-term effects of untreated sleep apnea are even more disturbing.

The word “apnea” means “lack of breath.” Sleep apnea restricts the flow of oxygen to every organ in the body. And since oxygen is vital to the functioning of all these organs, the stakes are high. Over time, untreated sleep apnea can lead to serious health concerns, including:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Strokes
  • Diabetes
  • Memory problems
  • Weight gain

People with untreated sleep apnea also have higher levels of pulmonary hypertension, meaning their lungs undergo significant stress. These people are almost twice as likely as others to experience a stroke or heart attack, and four times as likely to deal with high blood pressure.

What Is Inspire for Sleep Apnea?

Inspire is a maskless alternative for people who can’t tolerate a CPAP machine.

Inspire works a lot like a pacemaker, but for your tongue. Unlike pacemakers, which have been safely implanted for decades, Inspire doesn’t connect to your heart. Instead, after your doctor implants the device, a sensor in your chest detects when you’re trying to take a breath, and Inspire sends a small electrical signal to the nerve that controls your tongue. This very gently tells your tongue to move out of the way, leaving your airway clear for every breath.

So where a CPAP machine pushes air into your nose and mouth continually, Inspire uses your own nerves and muscles to pull in a breath.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Inspire for Sleep Apnea?

If you’re considering a maskless alternative to CPAP, you’re likely wondering about the pros and cons of Inspire for sleep apnea.

The Pros

Inspire is much more portable than a CPAP since it’s housed inside your body! There are no tubes, masks, hoses or plugs to worry about.

Inspire doesn’t cause dry eyes and mouth, bloating or marks on the face. Inspire comes with a remote control for you to turn it on at bedtime, and you can set it to turn off at a predetermined waking time. You can also turn it off manually when you wake up in the morning.

The Cons

Since Inspire is a surgery, it comes with the risks that any surgical procedure involves. This means that though Inspire is simple to use after surgery, it is more invasive than a CPAP machine.

Additionally, any time a foreign object is implanted in the body, it carries some risk of infection. Inspire is no different.

The battery in Inspire lasts about 11 years, and then needs to be replaced. All the other parts of Inspire can remain in the body, but the pacemaker part of the device needs to be changed out about once per decade. This procedure is much simpler than the initial surgery.

Even though Inspire is FDA-approved, it is not approved for an MRI of the chest or abdomen. It is approved for an MRI of the arms or legs.

Also, if you work near an arc welding unit, the magnetic field it produces can alter the settings of your Inspire device.

Inspire is also not FDA-approved for SCUBA diving deeper than 25 meters (about 82 feet).

Is Inspire Right for Me?

If you’re interested in giving Inspire a try, you’ll need a sleep study to determine the severity and type of your sleep apnea. An ENT doctor can perform a sleep endoscopy to evaluate you while you sleep. This allows the doctor to look at the airway collapse pattern and make sure it could benefit from Inspire.

Inspire also has weight restrictions, which keep the surgery safe. Patients must have a BMI lower than either 32 or 35.

If you’re considering Inspire, ENT Associates of Lubbock has the experience and expertise you’re looking for. Book a consultation today to see if Inspire could be the maskless CPAP alternative you’ve been looking for.

Otitis Media: A Doctor’s Quick Guide to Middle Ear Infections

Having a small child sick with a cold is sad enough. But when they tell you their ear hurts, you know your plans for the day have changed.

Otitis media, or a middle ear infection, is awful no matter how old you are. How do you treat otitis media? And better yet, how can you keep it from happening in the first place?

otitis media

“File:Anatomy of the Human Ear.svg” by Lars Chittka; Axel Brockmann is licensed under CC BY 2.5

A Quick Overview of Ear Anatomy

When we think of our ears, we usually picture our outer ear, the part that’s visible. But the anatomical ear has many more parts than just what you can see in the mirror.

The External Ear

The external ear includes everything you see on the side of your head plus the ear canal. The ear canal leads to the eardrum, also called the tympanic membrane, which is a thin barrier between the outer ear and the middle ear.

An infection of the outer ear is called otitis externa, or swimmer’s ear.

The Middle Ear

The middle ear is on the other side of the eardrum. Three of the smallest bones in your whole body live here: the malleus, incus and stapes. You may also hear these called the hammer, anvil and stirrup.

A healthy middle ear is filled with air and a small amount of fluid, and it is connected to the back of the nose by a thin passage called the eustachian tube.

The eustachian tube’s job is to equalize air pressure in your middle ear and to allow excess fluid to drain to the back of your nose. But if the eustachian tube becomes blocked, the fluid can’t drain properly and builds up. Also, no air can get through to equalize the pressure.

The fluid buildup from a blocked eustachian tube causes inflammation and infection. An infection of the middle ear is called otitis media.

The Inner Ear

The inner ear contains your actual hearing organ. It’s also responsible for helping you keep your balance.

An infection in the inner ear is pretty rare, but when it happens, it’s called otitis interna, labrynthitis or vestibular neuritis.

Why Do Kids Get So Many Ear Infections?

If you’re a parent, you’re probably familiar with the heartbreaking cries of a small child with an ear infection. But why are young children are so susceptible to otitis media?

The reason is their anatomy. Children have shorter and straighter eustachian tubes than adults. Because their eustachian tubes are more horizontal, their middle ears don’t drain to the nose and down the throat very efficiently.

In fact, their eustachian tubes can even operate in reverse, sending drainage from the nose up into the middle ear!

Children who battle frequent otitis media usually grow out of it around age three or four as their eustachian tubes grow with them. But they’re so hard to console in the meantime!

For children who suffer often from ear infections, ENT doctors can put in ear tubes, or tympanostomy tubes, to help the ears ventilate. These can be removed when the child’s eustachian tubes grow wider and more vertical.

otitis media

What Are the Symptoms of Otitis Media?

Otitis media can be painful, but it doesn’t always hurt. Many patients complain of feeling pressure behind the ear or a sense of fullness.

The fluid buildup in the middle ear can also cause muffled hearing. Some patients say it sounds like listening under water.

Sometimes, people with middle ear infections can hear fluid sloshing around, or bubbling and crackling sounds in their ear!

While very young children can’t tell you what’s going on, they’ll usually be fussier than normal and they may grab at or tug their ears. This may coincide with a cough or runny nose, but not always.

If too much pressure builds up from air or fluid, the eardrum can rupture. A tear in the eardrum usually causes a few seconds of sharp pain, followed by an immediate relief of pain and pressure. The fluid buildup will usually drain out through the ear canal as well.

What’s the Best Treatment for Otitis Media?

The treatment for otitis media depends on the severity of the infection, as well as on what’s causing it. When the infection is caused by bacteria, antibiotics can clear it up pretty quickly.

Most ear infections, though, are caused by a virus and will resolve on their own after a few days.

Some people experience an ongoing accumulation of fluid in the middle ear. Since the nasal passages connect directly to the ear, treating the nose can actually help in this situation. Using antihistamines or topical steroids for a few days can decrease the swelling in the eustachian tube and help the fluid to drain.

If you have middle ear infections repeatedly, it might be time to talk to your doctor about ear tube placement.

Tube placement is a simple procedure that can be performed in your physician’s office or an outpatient surgery center, depending on the patient’s age. An ENT doctor will make a small hole in the eardrum and insert a tiny tube. The tube allows fluid to drain freely out of the middle ear. This is the same common surgery that ENT doctors perform on children with recurrent ear infections.

Because frequent ear infections in children typically resolve within a few years, ear tubes aren’t designed to remain in the body long-term. Most children only need one set of ear tubes, though some need repeat tube placement over the years, depending on their anatomy and other factors.

For adults, a newly developed procedure to consider as an alternative to repeat tube placement is called eustachian tube dilation.

In eustachian tube dilation, your ENT doctor inserts a small balloon through the nose and carefully inflates it to open your eustachian tube. This FDA-approved solution can be a reasonable alternative for adults considering ear tube placement.

How Can I Prevent Otitis Media from Recurring?

One of the most effective methods to prevent middle ear infections is to keep the nose open and clear. This can involve nasal irrigation, blowing the nose, or treating colds and allergies.

This can mean using allergy medications like Claritin and Flonase. It may also involve seeing an ENT doctor for allergy testing and allergy shots.

If you’ve tried these solutions but still suffer from repeated middle ear infections, tube placement or eustachian tube dilation could be the way to go.

Make an appointment with Dr. Scolaro or Dr. Cuthbertson to determine what option is right for you or your child. We treat the entire family, and we look forward to meeting with you!

Is Your Sore Throat Caused by COVID, or Something Else?

So you’ve woken up with a sore throat.

Even though COVID numbers are looking better lately, you’re still trying to be cautious and want to make sure you don’t spread COVID to those around you.

You know sore throats can have lots of different causes, and you wonder: is this sore throat COVID? Is it just a cold? How can you know what the cause is so you know what precautions to take?

What Are the Most Common Symptoms of COVID?

COVID generally affects the lungs more than any other organ. That’s why some of the major symptoms of COVID include a cough, shortness of breath and a fever.

But, confusingly, every case of COVID seems different. It can include many of the same symptoms as the flu, or just some of them. Many people experience some combination of the following symptoms:

  • fever
  • chills
  • body aches
  • fatigue
  • cough
  • shortness of breath
  • headache
  • nasal congestion
  • runny nose
  • sore throat

Additionally, one of the most unique symptoms of COVID can be the loss of taste and smell. Sometimes COVID also comes with gastrointestinal symptoms, like nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

While COVID can cause a sore throat, it’s rare for this to be the first sign. Any illness that causes congestion or a runny nose can also cause a sore throat.

sore throat covid

What Else Might Be Causing My Sore Throat?

While a sore throat isn’t the most common sign of COVID, sore throats are very common with many different conditions.

Any type of postnasal drainage can cause a sore throat. Your throat becomes irritated as the excess mucus drains. It doesn’t matter whether that drainage is from allergies, a cold, the flu or COVID.

Infected tonsils can also cause a sore throat. This is usually the result of strep throat, which your doctor can diagnose with a simple throat swab.

Acid reflux can cause a sore throat as well. We usually associate reflux with heartburn, but this isn’t always the case. Laryngopharyngeal reflux, or silent reflux, doesn’t have any symptoms in the chest; it only causes burning in the throat.

Finally, some simple, everyday things can cause irritation in the throat, but these will resolve on their own. The dry West Texas climate can irritate your throat. And in the winter, running the heater can dry out the air in your home or office even more.

You may want to play it safe and get tested for COVID. But if a sore throat is your only symptom, it’s unlikely that COVID is the cause.

How Can I Soothe My Sore Throat?

To find relief from your sore throat pain, try to figure out what’s causing it. When you know the cause, you can identify the best ways to reduce your pain and to prevent more sore throats in the future.

If acid reflux is the culprit, dietary changes can help eliminate your discomfort. Spicy, greasy and acidic foods are the most common culprits in causing reflux. Experiment to see what helps your specific case, especially in the evenings. Tomato products and caffeine are a good place to start, since these often make reflux worse.

If your throat is irritated from postnasal mucus drainage, you can gargle warm salt water or make yourself a cup of hot tea. (Honey lemon tea is a good choice!)

If you have seasonal allergies, addressing those with an ENT doctor can lessen the amount of drainage you experience. This could mean getting allergy shots, but it could also just mean using topical sprays and antihistamines.

If a dry environment is causing your sore throat, try running a humidifier, especially at night. Your throat can really dry out while you’re sleeping! Be sure to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids throughout the day as well.

When Should I Call a Doctor?

If you have a sore throat that just won’t go away despite treating it at home, go ahead and give your doctor a call.

If your sore throat is so painful that you have trouble functioning, you may want to call your healthcare provider sooner.

And if your throat pain is accompanied by changes to your voice, difficulty swallowing, or coughing up blood, make an appointment with an ENT doctor right away.

A sore throat accompanied by unintentional weight loss also warrants a call to your doctor. You should check in with your doctor if you have a sore throat and a history of smoking or heavy alcohol use as well.

No matter what’s causing your sore throat, ENT Associates of Lubbock can help you get to the bottom of it. Contact us to set up a consultation if you’ve had any of these concerning symptoms, or if you just want to see what’s going on with your sore throat!

How To Avoid Spreading Your Contagious Sinus Infection

The old adage, “sharing is caring,” doesn’t apply to illnesses.

But with over 30 million Americans diagnosed with sinus infections every year, how can we be sure we aren’t spreading this particular ailment to those around us?

Should we to go to work or to the grocery store with a sinus infection? Or should we call in sick and order our groceries online?

Is a sinus infection contagious? And if it is, should you stay home? Wear a mask? Or carry on as usual?

What Happens in Your Body During a Sinus Infection?

One in seven adults will be diagnosed with a sinus infection in any given year. But do we really know what our sinuses are?

Sinuses are air-filled spaces inside the skull that produce a light coating of mucus, which drains through the nose. They’re supposed to stay open and aerated, but sometimes their outflow tract can become blocked. When this happens, the mucus gets backed up and becomes trapped in the sinuses.

Are There Different Types of Sinus Infections?

You can describe sinus infections in a couple different ways.

Describing a Sinus Infection by Location

Each of your sinuses has a different name. You can describe a sinus infection according to which sinuses are affected.

For example, if your congestion is in your frontal sinuses, you have a frontal sinus infection. The frontal sinuses are directly behind the lower forehead.

You have four sets of sinuses, called paranasal sinuses, in four areas around your nose:

  • frontal sinuses — behind your lower forehead
  • maxillary sinuses — behind your cheekbones
  • ethmoid sinuses — between your eyes
  • sphenoid sinuses — deep behind your nose

A sinus infection can block any combination of these sinuses.

is a sinus infection contagious

Describing a Sinus Infection by Cause

Another way to describe a sinus infection is by what kind of germ causes it. Most sinus infections are caused by viruses, just like the common cold.

Viral sinus infections generally end on their own without any medical intervention. They usually only affect the upper respiratory system, with symptoms like runny nose, sore throat, facial pressure, congestion and headache.

But sometimes viral infections can turn into bacterial infections. Inflamed, blocked-off sinuses encourage the kind of moist, vulnerable environment where bacteria can thrive.

You might have a bacterial sinus infection if your symptoms linger beyond about a week. If your drainage turns yellow or green, that could mean your viral infection has turned bacterial.

Bacterial sinus infections typically need a little help from antibiotics to clear up.

Lastly, even though the vast majority of sinus infections are caused by viruses and bacteria, it is possible to have a sinus infection caused by a fungus. Most fungal sinus infections are caused by an allergic reaction to a fungus in the air, like black mold. This type is called “allergic fungal sinusitis.”

Another type of fungal sinus infection called “invasive fungal sinusitis” exists, but is extremely rare. People who are otherwise healthy don’t get this infection. This type of infection is possible in severely immunocompromised people, such as those going through chemotherapy or with poorly controlled diabetes.

Is a Sinus Infection Contagious?

When you have a cold, the flu or COVID, the infectious particles replicate themselves in the nose. These illnesses also tend to cause coughing and sneezing, which project these germs out of your body. For this reason, you can easily spread these bugs to anyone around you.

But the infectious material in a sinus infection is behind the face, not actually in the nose. So while it’s possible to spread a sinus infection, they don’t spread easily without very close contact.

By taking a few precautionary measures, you can go about your daily life without fear of spreading your sinus infection to others.

How Can You Keep from Spreading a Sinus Infection?

Try incorporating these common sense practices to keep from spreading your sinus infection.

  • Wash your hands! This seems basic, but it always bears repeating. Handwashing really is the best way to prevent the spread of germs! Be sure to wash with soap and water before handling food, after using the restroom, and especially after blowing your nose or touching your face.
  • Cover your cough! Feeling a tickle in your throat? Turn away from those around you and cough into the crook of your elbow. This prevents germs from getting all over your hands while still stopping droplets from spreading.
  • Stay home when possible. Even though it takes pretty close contact to spread a sinus infection, staying home and getting rest can help you get back to your normal routine as soon as possible.
  • Get better faster. Try using home remedies like over-the-counter medications or a neti pot to help speed up your recovery. In fact, one study in children showed that nasal irrigation was almost as helpful as antibiotics in clearing up sinus infections!

What Increases the Risk of Getting a Sinus Infection?

Environmental and seasonal allergies can increase your risk of developing a sinus infection. Allergies don’t cause sinus infections, but they do increase their likelihood. Allergies cause inflammation, swelling and drainage, and all of these things increase the likelihood of a sinus obstruction.

When Should You See a Doctor About Your Sinus Infection?

Most sinus infections stay viral and resolve on their own. But if home remedies aren’t helping, if your drainage turns yellow or green, or if your sinus infection sticks around for more than a week or 10 days, it might be time to give your ENT doctor a call.

Still have more questions about whether your sinus infection is contagious? Not sure if you’re dealing with a viral or bacterial infection? Contact ENT Associates of Lubbock today, and we can help you figure out your next steps!

Does A Balloon Sinuplasty Hurt? What You Need to Know

Sinus problems leave you feeling miserable.

Chronic sinus issues like infections, pain, pressure, and headaches seem inescapable with any type of allergy or irritation.

But why do some people seem to experience these symptoms regularly while others only rarely struggle with sinus problems?

Yes, people who are prone to sinus issues may have more sensitivity to allergens and viruses — but they also likely have smaller openings in the sinuses which makes even a small irritation feel much worse. And if this explains why your sinuses are always flaring up, a balloon sinuplasty may be just what you need.

Unless it hurts.

In which case, you’re not so sure.

Take a deep breath… if you’re not too congested. Balloon sinuplasty is not a painful procedure. To put your mind at ease, we’ve explained what most patients experience — and why the procedure works to start with!

Why Balloon Sinuplasty?

The sinuses are air-filled pockets within the skull. These pockets need a way to aerate. They do this through small crevices into the nose itself. Patients with chronic sinus problems like infections, pain, pressure, headaches typically have narrowed openings between the sinuses and the nose.

Because these crevices are narrow, they’re more easily occluded with any type of allergy or irritation. In order to find relief, they need wider entrances into the sinus cavity. The balloon enlarges these small openings.

How Balloon Sinuplasty Works

This procedure is extremely low-pain because we start by numbing the nose entirely. Once the nose is completely numb, we pass a balloon through the “ostia” (the openings into the sinuses).

We dilate the balloon for about 10 seconds, deflate it, and remove it. During this short period of inflation, the balloon widens the bony entrance from the nose into the sinus cavity.

Each person has six of these openings. We can open all — or whichever the patient needs.

When we dilate the balloon, we actually move these small bones permanently. But it’s not as dramatic as it sounds. The bones in your nose aren’t what we typically associate with solid bone. Instead, these are paper-thin bones (think fingernails) that move easily.

does balloon sinuplasty hurt

Does Balloon Sinuplasty Hurt?

This is a low to no pain procedure for patients. We take about 20-30 minutes to fully numb the patient before we begin. We start with all-topical numbing agents — using both decongestants and anesthetics to thoroughly numb the nose. We then inject a numbing agent into the nose. But by that point, patients don’t feel it.

When we insert the balloon and dilate it, some patients describe the feeling as a slight pressure. Some people feel a release of pressure because the sinuses finally open. Other patients don’t feel anything — they don’t even flinch.

If you feel pressure, the location depends on which sinus we’re dilating. When we dilate the frontal sinus, you may feel pressure near the eye. When we dilate the maxillary/cheek sinus, you’ll feel pressure in the upper teeth. When we dilate the sphenoid sinus, sometimes you feel pressure in the back of the head to varying degrees.

Whatever the feeling, it only lasts for about 10 seconds per sinus.

For some, this compares to a dental procedure — you’re awake, numb, and maybe a little uncomfortable occasionally, but with the right medication, you don’t feel pain.

For most people, their only complaint is they didn’t do it sooner.

Is Balloon Sinuplasty Right For You?

The symptoms we commonly treat with this procedure include:

  • Nasal obstruction
  • Frontal or forehead pain
  • Cheek pressure/pain
  • Headaches
  • Recurrent sinus infections

We always begin treating these symptoms with medical therapy. If medications are ineffective, we take a CT scan and confirm the patient is a good candidate before we opt for a balloon sinuplasty. If a patient qualifies for balloon sinuplasty, the procedure is almost always covered by insurance.

Related: What Does a Balloon Sinuplasty Cost With & Without Insurance?

Is Balloon Sinuplasty Proven Safe?

While the concept of using a balloon for medical treatment can seem novel to some, it’s nothing new in the medical world. The balloon for sinuplasty has been around for about a decade, but cardiologists have been using a similar balloon for artery dilation for much longer.

There are several types of balloons available, but we use the type we feel is safest for patients. It’s been tested tens of thousands of times with almost zero complications. In fact, the type of balloon we use is so good, other companies blatantly copyright infringe and pay a royalty for every product they sell. It’s the best.

Both the balloon and the guidewire we use to insert it are extremely gentle. In fact, the guidewire won’t even break an egg yolk. It’s an extremely safe procedure for the patient.

If you’re struggling with chronic sinus problems and think a balloon sinuplasty might be right for you, don’t let the fear of pain stop you. Overall, it’s a highly effective, minimal pain, and low-risk procedure.

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