New Technology

Technology Tuesday

A New Device to Treat Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is the most common sleep disturbance.  This occurs when you are sleeping, your tongue relaxes, covering your airway.   Sleep apnea impacts approximately 21 million Americans! This can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.

The standard of treatment for this is weight loss, avoidance of alcohol, stopping smoking (if you smoke- we will save this discussion for another day)  and possibly a mouth device or a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine.  (These type of devices force a pressure into the airway, forcing the airway to stay open.)

While continuous positive airway pressure device, (CPAP while sleeping) is the gold standard treatment, it is estimated that more than 40 percent of sleep apnea patients refuse to wear the device.  

Now there is a company marketing an implant that delivers stimulation to open key airway muscles during sleep. It is controlled by a remote or wearable patch.  The device acts like a pacemaker, (by stimulating muscles with an electrical type pulseation) helping to synchronize the intake of air with the action of movement of the tongue using a breathing sensor and a stimulation lead powered by a small battery.

These neuromodulation systems have had positive results in clinical testing and are predicted to be the technology to deliver a better night’s sleep to more patients and spouses, and healthier communities nationwide.

One of the devices is called- THN.  This stands for Targeted Hypoglossal Neurostimulation ( the hypoglossal nerve is a nerve that stimulates the tongue for movement)   A new therapy for sleep apnea created by a San Diego-based developer, ImThera Medical.

The device therapy is composed of:

  • a pulse generator (or “pacemaker”) that is implanted in the upper part of the chest
  • a small electrode attached to the pacemaker and positioned to interact with the hypoglossal nerve (also implanted), and
  • an external remote control to activate the therapy

This particular neurostimulation implant is used to stimulate the activity of the hypoglossal nerve, which triggers the activity of movement of the tongue.

This stimulation also improves the muscle tone in the tongue as well as the tone of the soft tissues adjacent to it.

For some people with sleep apnea, the tongue is known to relax and collapse into the upper airway as they sleep- hence closing off the airway.  Or can partially cover the airway, making it difficult to take air into your lungs.  This is believed to lead to obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

By keeping the tongue from fully relaxing, THN would keep the upper airway open during sleep.

sleep apnea stimulator

This device would help many people get a restful night sleep w/o cumbersome or noisy machines.  This in turn would have many, many health benefits.

Source: Cleveland Clinic,

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