Implants Help Snorer's Sleep
Sleep Apnea Patients Also Benefit From New Treatment
Sept. 22, 2005 -- A new approach to treating and may finally give many patients what they long for most -- a
good night's sleep.
There are a range of effective treatments for sleep apnea and snoring, but
patients often find them unacceptable, either because they are uncomfortable or
involve painful surgery.
The Pillar Palatal Implant, approved by the FDA for sleep apnea and snoring,
was shown to be effective for both conditions in two new studies to be
presented in Los Angeles next week at the annual meeting of the American
Academy of Otolaryngology -- Head and Neck Surgery.
"This is one of the more promising new treatments out there," says
Dallas sleep medicine specialist Craig Schwimmer, MD, who did not participate
in either of the studies.
"To me the biggest attraction to this is that it is an effective
alternative to standard surgery," he tells WebMD.
The standard surgery involves removal of excess tissue at the back of the
throat and soft palate, a procedure known as uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP).
Patients who get the surgery face weeks of painful recovery and they don't
"This isn't a surgery that it is easy for patients to get excited
about," Schwimmer says.
The New Sleep Apnea Treatment
Sleep apnea and loud persistent snoring are two of the most common sleep
complaints. If left untreated sleep apnea can lead to major health problems
such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke. People with the
disorder often snore, but not all snorers have sleep apnea.
Both conditions are caused by partial airway collapse, often due to
weakening of the muscles of the soft palate. Palate movement, or "palatal
flutter," causes the vibration, which results in snoring.
The new treatment reduces the movement or vibration of the soft palate with
implants designed to stiffen it. Using a special needle, three pieces of
braided, polyester string about three-quarters of an inch long each are
inserted into the soft palate near the point where it meets the hard
Although considered a surgical procedure, implantation takes only about 10
minutes and it is done under local anesthesia in the physician's office.
"People with sleep apnea have no trouble breathing during the day,"
Loyola University Medical Center associate professor of otolaryngology Regina
P. Walker, MD, tells WebMD.
"They have very good airway flow when they are sitting up and standing,
and terrible airway when they are lying flat. What we do with this procedure is
try to recreate the muscle tone that is compromised when patients lie down.
Like when you suck something through a straw, the stiffer the straw, the less
likely it is to collapse."
Patients and Partners See Improvement
In the sleep apnea study, Walker and colleagues followed 53 patients treated
with the palatal implants at five centers around the country. At evaluation
three months after implantation, roughly three-fourths of the patients' bed
partners reported witnessing no evidence of sleep apnea.