A Stiff Upper Palate Can Quiet Snoring
May 21, 2001 -- If you or someone in your household is shaking the timbers at night with snoring, a painless new technique may be the secret to nighttime quiet.
The new medical technique, called injection snoreplasty, involves injecting a scarring agent known as Sotradecol -- commonly used to treat varicose veins -- into the soft palate at the back of the roof of the mouth. The agent stiffens the soft palate.
A loose or floppy palate causes the characteristic "flutter" sound of loud snoring, says Eric Mair, MD, an ear-nose-throat surgeon at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.
"The treatment is effective, very simple, cost effective, and well tolerated with minimal pain," Mair tells WebMD.
The "minimal pain" part, says Mair, will come as welcome news to snorers who have undergone any of a number of common, painful surgical techniques to correct snoring. One of these techniques -- known as uvulopalatopharyngoplasty, or UPPP -- involves surgically cutting the palate to make it shorter.
Although short-term results with UPPP are good, no one looks back on the procedure with pleasure. "Patients are in pain for a month and require long-term narcotics," Mair says. "It requires a general anesthetic and usually an overnight stay in the hospital."
Other treatments using lasers to shorten the palate, radiotherapy to decrease its thickness, or surgical techniques to peel a piece of skin away from the palate, are similarly painful, Mair says.
And some of those surgical techniques, which are not commonly covered by most health insurance plans, can be expensive. UPPP can cost as much as $10,000, Mair tells WebMD.
Injection snoreplasty, on the other hand, can cost as little as $50. And the procedure can be done repeatedly, whenever snorers need a "tune-up," he says.
In a study of the procedure, appearing in the May edition of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, 27 patients with loud snoring received one or more of the injections. Of those, 25 reported a significant decrease in snoring. There were no complications from the treatment, and patients reported minimal discomfort. Patients were followed for approximately one year with no recurrence of snoring, according to the report.
While the procedure is a new one of his own devising, Mair says it may now be in use by other doctors. First reported at a medical meeting last year, injection snoreplasty results prompted a flood of emails from doctors interested in learning the procedure, he says.
Mair says an estimated 40-60 million people have some degree of habitual snoring. Most of those -- perhaps 80% -- are due to palatal flutter. The rest may be due to obstruction caused by a thickening of the back of the tongue or a nasal obstruction. Among those two groups, perhaps 5% will have snoring associated with obstructive sleep apnea, when the obstruction actually causes the sleeper to stop breathing momentarily.