Pacemaker under your tongue that stops you snoring
A pacemaker-style device implanted underneath the tongue may be a way to tackle snoring.
New research shows that the implant, which stimulates the nerve that controls the muscles of the tongue, can reduce the severity of sleep apnoea, a major cause of snoring.
The device is programmed to work only when the patient is asleep; or it can be turned on and off as needed through a remote control.
The new implant, called the Hypoglossal Nerve Stimulation System, works on the muscles of the tongue, causing them to contract at once
An estimated 60 per cent of all snorers are ‘tongue-snorers’, which means that the tongue and soft tissue around the throat falls into the back of the airway, causing the tissue to vibrate as air flows past it.
In severe cases, this can result in obstructive sleep apnoea — a condition that affects up to four in 100 adult men and two in 100 women.
Here the tongue and other soft tissue in the throat actually block the throat and cut off oxygen. The brain then triggers the snorer to breathe again.
Obstructive sleep apnoea is a risk factor for a number of conditions, including heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, daytime fatigue and weight gain.
One of the most successful treatments for the condition is a continuous positive airway pressure mask or CPAP, where mildly increased air pressure keeps the airways open during sleep.
However, many people dislike wearing the mask, with some estimates suggesting that only half of sufferers with a CPAP device regularly use it.
An estimated 60 per cent of all snorers are 'tongue-snorers'
The new implant, called the Hypoglossal Nerve Stimulation System, works on the muscles of the tongue, causing them to contract at once.
This not only pulls the tongue forward, but these muscles also control the soft tissue in the walls of the airway, so it pulls open the airway, too.
The treatment involves implanting a small electrode next to the hypoglossal nerve, which sits underneath the tongue.
A pacemaker-size generator is also implanted in a surgically created pocket in the chest and connected to the electrode in the tongue via wires tunnelled under the skin.
Tiny sensor wires are tunnelled from the generator into the windpipe, where they monitor breathing by detecting changes in air pressure in the throat.
If a prolonged drop in pressure is detected, this signals that the airway may be blocked, and the electrode shocks the tongue muscles, pulling it clear of the airway and allowing the patient to breathe properly again.
Research at the Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital in Perth, Australia, shows that the therapy can be highly effective.
The trial involved 21 patients aged 43 to 63 with moderate to severe sleep apnoea, who were assessed for six months after having the device implanted.
To assess its effectiveness, doctors adopted the widely used apnoea-hypopnea index, which assesses severity of symptoms. Results show that severity levels dropped from a score of 43 to 19.5.
Daytime sleepiness rates also dropped by one-third, and quality of life increased by 50 per cent.
Another trial of 30 patients published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine this month shows the device helped maintain constant air flow during the night.
Commenting on the device, Dr Matthew Hind, consultant physician in respiratory medicine at London’s Royal Brompton Hospital, said: ‘Similar treatments using physical methods to stop the tongue blocking the airway have been looked at in the past.
‘This is an interesting area of research and we await the results of the further clinical trials.’