New surgery could cure disturbing snoring
Published: Thursday, December 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, November 30, 2005 at 3:20 p.m.
Attention, long-suffering people with snoring spouses.
A new minimally invasive surgery that can stifle the snoring and treat sleep-related breathing disorders could be the answer to your prayers.
The pillar procedure is now being used to treat patients with simple snoring and mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnea by Dr. Jack Sedwick, an otolaryngologist - that's an ear, nose and throat specialist - at Shands at the University of Florida.
The pillar procedure is designed to strengthen the soft palate, which is one of the main anatomical components of sleep apnea (short-term breathing cessation) and snoring.
During sleep, the soft tissue at the rear of the throat can vibrate - often blocking the airway and leading to loud snoring, gasping for breath and frequent waking.
Sleep apnea is very common, as common as adult diabetes, and affects more than 12 million Americans, according to the National Institutes of Health. Risk factors include being male, overweight, and over the age of 40, but sleep apnea can strike anyone at any age, even children.
Studies have reported that 80 percent of snoring couples sleep apart, often in separate bedrooms. Many habitual snorers have or develop sleep apnea, which can be diagnosed with a sleep study.
Apnea often results in reduced levels of oxygen in the blood. Over time, that contributes to high blood pressure and other cardiovascular disease, memory problems, weight gain, impotency and headaches. Moreover, untreated sleep apnea may be responsible for job impairment and motor vehicle crashes. Fortunately, the condition can be diagnosed and treated.
The pillar procedure involves insertion of structural supports that stiffen the palate, reducing the vibration that causes most snoring. It is less invasive than other surgeries to treat sleep apnea, said Sedwick, who is an assistant professor of otolaryngology in the UF College of Medicine.
"This treatment is most appropriate for patients who are suffering from mild to moderate apnea, as determined by a sleep study," Sedwick said. "For many patients who are a candidate for this procedure, there is an excellent rate of success in decreasing snoring and halting sleep apnea episodes."
The pillar procedure takes about 20 minutes and can be performed on an outpatient basis without general anesthesia or sedation. It isn't appropriate for everyone, Sedwick emphasized, but in the right patient, results compare favorably with more invasive surgical procedures.
Patients may prefer the pillar procedure to another treatment for sleep apnea, which requires wearing a CPAP mask at night. The CPAP (or continuous positive airway pressure) mask fits over the nose and an attached pump sends a continuous flow of air under pressure across the palate to keep the airway open. It works, but some find the mask claustrophobic.
During the pillar procedure, three tiny inserts woven from Dacron are placed in the soft palate to help reduce the vibration and limit the ability of the soft palate to obstruct the airway. Once in place, the inserts act like pillars to add structural support to the soft palate.
Over time, the body's natural tissue response to the inserts increases the structural integrity of the soft palate. The inserts are designed to be invisible and cannot be felt by the patient or interfere with swallowing or speech.
Many patients resume normal diet and activities the same day, according to Sedwick.
Sedwick has offered the pillar procedure for the past six months to selected patients who have had a sleep study and are likely to benefit from it.
Diane Chun can be reached at (352) 374-5041 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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