Monday, December 27, 2010

Zaps for ZZZs: Scientists Shock the Tongue to Keep Air Flowing

The Associated Press reports that a new implant might be able to block obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

Scientists are testing to see if an implanted pacemaker-like device might help certain sufferers keep their airways open by zapping the tongue during sleep.

OSA occurs when the tongue and upper-airway collapse during sleep, blocking the airway – sometimes for a minute or more repeatedly throughout the night.

The experimental implant intends to stimulate the nerve that controls the base of the tongue with a mild electrical current during sleep to make it stay toned and in place like it does during the day.

Three companies are already developing implants and planning studies to test the results.

"In this kind of research, we're not looking for little changes," says Dr. Meir Kryger, a sleep medicine specialist at Gaylord Hospital in Connecticut, who is helping to lead Inspire's study. "What we're looking for is actually cure."

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) estimates that more than 18 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea.

One patient who had success with the early testing of hypoglossal nerve stimulation was Rik Krohn, 67, of suburban Minneapolis.

"It got to the point where I'd dread going to bed," says Krohn. Sleep studies showed his apnea was awakening him an average of 35 times an hour. He tried five different CPAP masks unsuccessfully before giving up in frustration, and surgeons turned him away.

These experiments are only now beginning, with a handful of implants performed so far — and while it's an interesting concept, frustrated patients should try some proven steps first, cautions, Dr. Amy Atkeson of Columbia University Medical Center in New York.

The American Academy of Sleep medicine recommends weight loss, oral appliance therapy, and CPAP for OSA treatment.

Image by Tiago Daniel

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The Official Blog of the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine (AADSM) is intended as an information source only. Content of this blog should not be used for self-diagnosis or treatment, and it is not a substitute for medical care, which should be provided by the appropriate health care professional. If you suspect you have a sleep-related breathing disorder, such as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), you should consult your personal physician or visit an AASM-accredited sleep disorders center. The AADSM, and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, as the managing agent of the AADSM, assume no liability for the information contained on the Official Blog of the AADSM or for its use.