May 24, 2000 -- Snoring is not a laughing matter, especially if you're the person on the other side of the bed. There are hundreds of devices and "cures" for the annoying problem, some surgical, and painful. But there are no promises, outside of divorce, that the problem will go away.
David R. Hillman, MD, and colleagues at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital in Nedlands, Australia, have done a study of "a simple, minimally invasive treatment that has the potential to reduce snoring," says Hillman.
The procedure is known as radiofrequency tissue volume reduction (RFTVR) of the soft palate, and it's relatively new. It's also known by the name of somnoplasty, because the device used in the procedure is manufactured by a California company called Somnus Technologies, which provided funds for Hillman's study.
Many practitioners are now trained to use the device, and the procedure is gaining popularity in the U.S. The device was cleared for marketing by the FDA in 1997 as an aid for the treatment of habitual snoring. But Hillman writes in the study, which was published in the May issue of the journal Archives of Otolaryngology -- Head & Neck Surgery, that there have been few published studies on it.
Snoring occurs when the throat muscles relax during sleep, causing the soft tissues in the back of the mouth and throat to collapse, partially blocking the airway. RFTVR applies radio frequency to the uvula (the teardrop-shaped piece of flesh at the back of the throat) and the soft palate (the roof of the mouth), through a needle electrode, essentially causing what Hillman describes to WebMD as a lesion "similar to a low-grade burn."
As the lesion heals, the body's resorption of the tissue shrinks and stiffens the uvula or soft palate, reducing the vibration and opening up the airway.
Hillman and colleagues recruited 20 adults who had "socially problematic" snoring, but not the more severe problem of "clinically significant" sleep apnea -- in which people stop breathing for varying amounts of time during sleep. The patients then underwent procedures to the back, the middle, and the front of the soft palate, during three separate outpatient visits.