"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.
Nearly 75% of patients and bed partners said they would recommend the procedure to a friend or family member.
"The implants were as effective as other surgical treatments, but there was much less pain and recovery time involved," Walker says. "From the patient standpoint, it was easy."
The second study involved 25 patients who snored loudly night after night but did not have sleep apnea. All the patients were treated at the Lahey Clinic in Burlington, Mass.
Three months after getting the implants, 75% of the patients and 90% of their bed partners reported that they would recommend the procedure. Independent testing showed that snoring loudness declined significantly following the surgery.
Researcher John Romanow, MD, FACS, tells WebMD that even though the implants are rarely covered by insurance, patients often consider the $1,500 to $2,500 out-of-pocket costs well worth it.
Restore Medical, Inc., of St. Paul, Minn., the manufacturer of the palatal implant, funded both studies.
Just as with standard surgery, all patients with sleep apnea and snoring are not good candidates for palatal implants. Surgical treatments do not work well in patients who are extremely obese, and implants are also not recommended for people with very large tonsils.
Implants may be an effective option, however, for patients who are still having problems after having traditional surgery, Walker says.
"I tell my patients that they don't have a lot to lose with this procedure, other than some money," she says. "If it doesn't work, we still have the other treatment options available to us."