Top Doctors Q&A: Tod Huntley
Otolaryngology: Partner, Center for Ears, Nose, Throat & Allergy (CENTA); co-director of head and neck surgical services, St. Vincent Health Network
Is snoring always a sign of sleep apnea?
No. For instance, I’m a “benign” snorer. I’ve given myself a sleep study, and I don’t have sleep apnea. I just make some noise. I’m interested in what happens between the snores. When your breathing stops momentarily—that’s apnea. Significant sleep apneas affect between 5 and 8 percent of the adult population.
How dangerous is it?
It’s a significant independent risk factor for a variety of medical problems, including cardiovascular disease, stroke, and hypertension. And sleep apnea patients are five to 10 times more apt to have workplace or car accidents because they’re so tired. It’s wise to get tested. Snoring is like a smoke detector, warning you of a potential fire.
What’s the latest development?
The Inspire procedure, a new surgical technique that uses an implanted device to mitigate sleep apnea events, much like a pacemaker regulates the heart. A sensor placed near the ribs senses when the lungs draw a breath and notifies the implant, which sends a small electric current to a nerve stimulator placed near the tongue. The current causes the tongue to protrude, which keeps the airway open. The electrical stimulation is so mild the patient sleeps right through it. It’s a game changer, because most sleep apnea surgeries can be quite painful. But this is a true outpatient procedure.
If you snore at all, should you get checked?
Yes. There are plenty of nonsurgical ways to treat sleep apnea. But so many people just put up with it for years. Some of the most satisfied patients I’ve ever seen are ones who get treatment and can finally sleep. They didn’t realize what they were missing.