18 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea. And while snoring may seem comical, sleep apnea is no laughing matter. Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder that is characterized by breathing that repeatedly stops during sleep. This can happen hundreds of times in a night and causes the brain, and the rest of the body, to not get enough oxygen.
There are two types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is more common and is caused by a blockage of the airway, typically when the soft tissue in the back of the throat collapses during sleep. The sleeper periodically struggles to breathe, therefore, unable to effectively inhale. Central sleep apnea is different in that the airway isn’t actually blocked, but rather the brain fails to signal the muscles to breathe. The sleeper periodically doesn’t breathe at all, or breathes so shallowly that it is ineffective at providing enough oxygen to the body.
Either type of sleep apnea can lead to a variety of other health problems, including high blood pressure, stroke, heart failure, heart attack, diabetes, depression, and more. Untreated sleep apnea can also lead to poor performance in normal daily activities at work or school, and it can even make you a more dangerous driver. Sleep apnea sufferers are up to five times more likely to have traffic accidents than normal sleepers. So, how can you treat it?
Traditionally, sleep apnea is treated by the patient wearing a CPAP machine at night, which prevents the upper airway from collapsing by forcing air through the nose and mouth. However, some sleep apnea patients can’t tolerate the machine for a variety reasons, including the noise, the size, or just its general presence. Luckily, there’s another FDA Procedure for sleep apnea that you don’t know about called the Pillar Procedure.
The Pillar Procedure is a minor surgery intended to treat snorers and those with mild obstructive sleep apnea by addressing the most common source of snoring, the soft palate. The doctor places 3-5 small polyester rods in the soft palate, which measure 18 mm in length, and 2 mm in diameter. Houston Sleep Specialist, Dr. Pasha, has studied this procedure for years and has revolutionized the Pillar Procedure with his use of the Da Vinci robot in the placement of the pillars to minimize risk or human error and increase efficiency. Scarring from the procedure stiffens the palate, which results in the reduction of tissue vibration that causes snoring and palatal tissue collapse. For select patients, this 30-minute procedure is performed in the office under local anesthesia by “freezing” the throat using sprays, gels, and Lidocaine.
Severe complications are extremely rare, but minor complications are possible, including partial extrusion of one of the implants through the skin. This is easily remedied by removing the implant and inserting another, or leaving it in place- depending on how long the implant has been in the soft palate. Since the procedure is done in the office, recovery is much quicker and with less discomfort. A normal diet can be resumed the same day as the procedure, or a few days after. And while pain varies for each patient, mostly one should anticipate soreness in the area for a few days after the procedure. Clinical studies have shown that the Pillar Procedure can reduce the severity of mild sleep apnea, and can reduce snoring with a 70-80% bed partner satisfaction rate in select patients.
The Pillar Procedure is a minimally invasive alternative for those with sleep apnea who hate wearing a CPAP machine. If you think you may have a sleep disorder, you should seek the medical advice of a certified sleep specialist to determine the proper treatment. Dr. Pasha is a certified sleep specialist and is one of the leading providers of The Pillar Procedure, and other cutting-edge sleep disorder treatments in Houston. If you’re ready to treat your sleep issues, make an appointment today! To learn more about The Pillar Procedure, click here.