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Implants and Surgery For Heavy Snorers

Snoring can become a major problem as people age - not only for their frustrated tired partners, but also for the snorers themselves.

That constant disturbing snore is made by vibrations of the soft palate and other tissue in the upper airways, ie our mouth, nose and throat.

In more severe cases, known as obstructive sleep apnoea, the lack of muscle tone in the upper airway can cause the airway to collapse enough to cause an obstruction to the airway; this often results in really heavy snoring interrupted by a pause and then gasps for breath.

There are a number of factors that can cause this. It is often caused by a partial blockage in the airways that causes airway tissue to vibrate. During waking hours our muscle tone keeps our airways in good shape, but this can be reduced during sleep, allowing this vibration.

Sometimes the problem can be that the brain “forgets” to tell the muscles to breathe during sleep, leaving the patient gasping for air; and sometimes it can be caused by obesity, with the weight of the chest prevents normal air flow when the sleeper is lying down.

A recommended treatment for all this is CPAP - continuous positive airway pressure. This involves putting on a mask at night which is attached to a machine that can be positioned on the floor or beside the bed and is plugged in to provide pressurised air into your airways as you sleep.

This is a very intrusive treatment and many patients find they really can’t sleep with this equipment on their faces.

Now Professor William Abraham from Ohio State University in America has just announced details of an implantable device which stimulates the diaphragm and causes it to contract, regularising the patient’s breathing pattern throughout the night and thereby stopping the snoring.

The implant is popped under the skin just below the collar bone, similar to a pacemaker and a tiny wire connects it into one of the veins near the phrenic nerve.

So far tests with the new system, called the Remede System, have involved just 46 people but the results showed not only had their sleep efficiency improved but measures of their heart function had also improved.

Other research is also underway. The Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital undertook a clinical trial that showed that singing, especially using the sounds “ung” and “gar”, improved the tone of their throat muscles and greatly reduced snoring.

In Australia Victoria’s sleep expert Dr Glen Burgess has introduced details of surgery that involves using a plasma wand and radio-frequency energy. The specially designed probe shrinks and dissolves the tissue and muscle at the back of the tongue at a low temperature with almost no pain and discomfort to the patient. By removing or reducing the soft excess tissue, it is less likely the tongue will collapse and block the airway during sleep.

There is more information on snoring at the British Snoring website.

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