Sleeping man and baby

Everyone appreciates a good night's sleep.

A big obstacle to that is the fact that 18 million American adults suffer from Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), and the condition arises simply from a wayward throat muscle. A new study by Dr. Richard Schwab, co-medical director of the Sleep Center at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, shows how a new technique that can correct the issue.

What is OSA and how is it commonly treated?

OSA occurs when muscles at the back of the throat collapse and close during sleep. This blocks airflow, causing repeated pauses in breathing. According to the National Sleep Foundation, OSA leads to sleep deprivation and low blood oxygen levels, which increase the likelihood of developing more serious conditions—heart disease, high blood pressure and memory issues.


Common treatment for OSA involves the use of a mask placed over the nose during sleep, which allows a steady flow of air and prevents breathing pauses. Called continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), this techinque is not effective for all sufferers of OSA. Opportunely, Schwab and his colleagues found the alternative: hypoglossal nerve stimulation (HGNS)


A new treatment: HGNS

This new method involves battery-powered stimulations. But don't worry, it's nothing painful. Delivered during sleep, the implanted device sends mild stimulations to the hypoglossal nerve when it detects a breathing pause, enlarging the upper airway in response. 

Put to the test, breathing pauses in patients were reduced by 78 percent. Low blood oxygen levels were also reduced by 80 percent. These numbers remained consistant even after the device was implanted for three years, the study found.

HGNS was approved by the FDA in 2014 for patients who don't respond to CPAP; however, researchers wonder how the device will work outside controlled conditions. 

Schwab says his team is out to investigate. 

"Considering that sleep apnea can lead to high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, and other serious health problems, it is critically important that we study devices that may serve as another option instead of CPAP to treat patients with sleep apnea.

There is no perfect treatment option for obstructive sleep apnea, but our preliminary data suggest that hypoglossal nerve stimulation can effectively treat patients with sleep apnea who are unable to tolerate CPAP."


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