Ohio State Wexner Medical Center is the only health center in central Ohio offering upper airway stimulation, a new surgical treatment option for patients with obstructive sleep apnea. This innovative solution can offer relief to sleep apnea sufferers who cannot handle CPAP. Upper airway stimulation therapy, a surgically-implanted system, automatically monitors your distinct breathing patterns and gives you the exact amount of stimulation needed to contract the throat muscles to keep your airway open.
Initial studies show upper airway stimulation patients experienced:
- a 78-percent reduction in sleep apnea events
- reduced snoring, with 85 percent of bed partners reporting no or soft snoring
- improved quality of life and daytime functioning
This is an option that works inside your body, with your natural breathing process. It goes where you go, is easy to use and operates silently. It’s ideal for patients who have not responded to or cannot tolerate other sleep apnea treatments, such as CPAP.
How does upper airway stimulation work?
With obstructive sleep apnea, the tongue or other soft tissue may block the airway, creating dangerous breathing problems during sleep. Upper airway stimulation uses an FDA-approved implantable device similar to a pacemaker to deliver mild stimulation to the hypoglossal nerve to prevent the tongue from blocking the airway.
- During an outpatient surgical procedure that typically lasts two to three hours, three small incisions are made:
- One under the chin to connect a wire (called a lead) to the nerve that controls the tongue
- One below the collarbone to place the battery
- One on the patient’s side, between the 4th and 5th rib, to place the sensor wire that monitors breathing
- The device is not activated for the first month to allow for full recovery. Patients may experience mild discomfort the first few days and some scarring, but most report little pain.
- After one month, the patient returns to their Ohio State Sleep Medicine physician to have the device activated and to set initial stimulation parameters.
- The patient is then able to turn the device on and off based on their sleep schedule, using a handheld remote. The device can be set to start at a set interval after going to bed (typically 30 minutes), allowing adequate time for the patient to fall asleep naturally.
- Throughout the night, the device continually monitors the patient’s unique breathing patterns, issuing stimulation only when the patient inhales (which is when sleep apnea events occur).
- Upon rising, the patient simply turns off the device using the remote.
Some patients report mild twitching of the tongue during use, but this can be minimized by adjusting the stimulation settings.
A follow-up sleep study helps each patient maximize the device effectiveness and appropriate stimulation levels.
The device battery lasts about 11 years and can be replaced when necessary.