A stitch for snoring! A special kind of surgical thread is being used by Surgeons to tackle snoring. The thread was developed for facelifts and promotes tissue growth. By anchoring the tongue to the base of the mouth, this will prevent the tongue from falling back which can cause snoring.
The technique has been developed to treat obstructive sleep apnea, a condition that affects an estimated one in 15 adults.
Sleep apnea occurs when the muscles that would normally hold the airways open relax during sleep – as a result, the base of the tongue and other soft tissue collapse. It’s the vibration of this tissue as air passes over it that causes the characteristic sound of snoring.
In some cases the airways can close completely – the patient then stops breathing for several seconds before the brain steps in to get things working again. However, this can lead to a patient briefly waking up to 100 times a night. If left untreated, sleep apnea is linked to daytime sleepiness, hypertension, depression, coronary artery disease and stroke.
The most common treatment for moderate to severe cases is a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. This is a mask worn over the mouth and nose that gently blows air into the throat to keep the airways open while the patient sleeps. However, some patients find the device difficult to use.
Surgery is another option. Surgeons would move a section of the lower jaw forward, which pulls the muscle attached to the tongue and prevents it from flopping back. Jaw bone fracture or broken teeth could be potential complications from this surgery.
The new approach, on trial at Westside Ear Nose and Throat Clinic in New York, involves ‘tying’ the tongue to the base of the mouth so that it cannot fall back.
A tiny hole is drilled into the lower jaw bone at the base of the chin – a very thin needle is then threaded through into the back of the tongue. The needle contains a special type of surgical tape that has a number of tiny plastic cones threaded along it, like beads on a string.
Not only do these cones anchor the thread in the tissue, but they trigger tissue to grow in and around them. The cones slowly dissolve over a period of three months, but this new tissue helps provide permanent anchor points for the tongue, preventing it moving out of place.
The thread, once it’s been stitched into place, is gently pulled to anchor the back of the tongue to the base of the mouth. Because this is deep in the tissue, it won’t interfere with talking or chewing. However, the anchoring is still strong enough to prevent the tongue from flopping back at night and blocking the airway.
Early results showed significant success rates on five people, and the physicians leading the trial say they expect a 70% to 80% success rate.
The researchers say, ‘The purpose of surgery is to eliminate the need for a CPAP machine.’
‘People who undergo this procedure will have a significant drop in the rate of breathing pauses at night. By lowering the apnea rate, most patients wake up much more refreshed and have more energy during the day. It will also lower your risk factors for heart disease in the future.’
* In another development, the vibration technology found in mobile phones is being used to combat sleep apnea and chronic snoring.
Scientists have devised a small ring-shaped device, that’s attached to the back of the neck and vibrates whenever the wearer turns onto their back.
The device contains a pressure sensor that triggers the alarm ten seconds after a person lies on their back. It vibrates with gradually increasing strength until the wearer changes position.
In a clinical trial at St Lucas Andreas University Hospital, Amsterdam, 30 patients wore the device for a year. Results show that within two weeks, the number of sleep apnea episodes suffered had been cut in half.