Upper airway stimulation offers new hope for patients suffering from sleep apnea.

Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center is one of the first in Ohio to offer upper airway stimulation, a new treatment option to patients with sleep apnea

This advanced, FDA-approved technology is an implantable device similar to a pacemaker. The device delivers mild stimulation to the hypoglossal nerve to prevent the tongue from blocking the airway. The patient turns the device on and off with a small handheld remote.

Initial studies show patients who have participated in clinical trials with the new device have experienced a significant 68% reduction in sleep apnea events and improved quality of life. 

Who is a Potential Candidate?

Patients over the age of 18 who have:

  • Diagnosis of moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea
  • Not responded to other sleep apnea treatments, such as CPAP
  • BMI of 32 or less

In addition, all potential candidates for upper airway stimulation will need to have a physical examination and a sleep endoscopy. An overnight sleep study is also required; however, results from prior sleep studies may be used.  Your doctor will advise you about this requirement.

Getting Started

Schedule an appointment for a consultation with our sleep surgery specialists by calling 614-366-ENTS (3687). 

Why Choose Ohio State

Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center ear, nose and throat physicians specialize in surgical and non-surgical treatments for sleep apnea.  We evaluate each patient’s condition and recommend the best treatment option for you. Because Ohio State is an academic medical center, we research and offer new treatments to our patients sooner than other hospitals. Ohio State is recognized by U.S.News & World Report as one of the nation’s best hospitals for treatment of patients with ear, nose and throat disorders, such as sleep apnea.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How does the device work?

A: Upper airway stimulation works like a pacemaker treatment for sleep apnea. The surgically implanted device, which consists of three small implanted parts, stimulates key muscles at the base of the tongue to maintain an open airway.  You will feel a mild contraction or tingling sensation when your tongue muscles are stimulated. Through a remote control device, you turn on/off the device before going to/awaking from sleep.

Q: What results have patients experienced after the device is implanted?

A: Clinical trials with the device show that most patients sleep better, snore less and experience improved overall quality of life.

Q: Is the treatment covered by insurance?

A: An FDA approved treatment, the upper airway stimulation procedure is reviewed by insurance companies on a patient by patient basis. You can discuss coverage with your doctor at your consultation appointment.

Q: What is involved in the surgical procedure?

A: The implant procedure is done under general anesthesia. The small generator is surgically inserted into the chest, which is connected with a breathing sensor and stimulation lead in the neck. There will be some swelling at the incision sites for a few days after surgery. You should be able to return to normal non-strenuous activities after surgery.

Q: What monitoring and maintenance of the device is needed after surgery?

A: Following your procedure your Sleep Medicine doctor will work with you to monitor the effects of the implant device to ensure you are getting the maximum benefits.

How the upper airway stimulation therapy works

Image of patient with normal breathing airway

Patient without sleep apnea

If you are breathing normally, your airway remains open while you are sleeping at nighttime.

Image of patient with obstructed breathing airway

Patient with sleep apnea

For patients with sleep apnea, your airway is obstructed at the soft palate, tongue base, or in both locations. This results in lower oxygen levels in the blood, which arouses your brain and body to open the airway. Consequently, your sleep cycle is disrupted many times during the night.

Image of patient with hypoglossal nerve stimulator implanted

Patient with upper airway stimulation

Similar to a pacemaker, the upper airway stimulator is surgically implanted to deliver mild stimulation to key airway muscles to prevent blocked airways during sleep. The device consists of three implanted components including a small generator, breathing sensor lead, and stimulation lead, all controlled with the small handheld sleep remote.

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