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 always improve.
"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 palate.
Although considered a surgical procedure, implantation takes only about 10 minutes and it is done under local anesthesia in the physician's office.