Prevent Sleep Apnea, Tongue Pacemaker Offers CPAP Alternative

Written by Manny Erlich on April 30, 2012. Posted in Sleep Apnea Symptoms & Treatments, Snoring 101

Sleep Apnea Tongue Pacemaker

Doctors at Berlin, Charité – Universitätsmedizin Department of Otolaryngology have successfully implanted a tongue pacemaker to prevent sleep apnea and snoring.

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea occurs when a person stops breathing during sleep. This is a very common condition, even Shaq has sleep apnea. These pauses in breathing can last 10 or more seconds and occur repeatedly during sleep. Sleep apnea can cause or aggravate other medical conditions including high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. A person who snores loudly and still feels tired after a 7-8 hour night of sleep may have sleep apnea. The more common form of sleep apnea is when the throat muscles relax and obstruct the airways (and is called obstructive sleep apnea). Treatment usually dictates a CPAP; sleep still may suffer.

A Sleep Apnea, Tongue Pacemaker Solution

In order to prevent sleep apnea, the neurotransmitter device was implanted below the patient’s collarbone and functions similar to the pacemaker for a heart. It is slightly smaller than a box of matches. From there a connection is made to the bottom of the rib cage by an ultrathin cable to monitor the breathing frequency and measure the movements of the diaphragm.

During inhalation, as the diaphragm contracts, the pacemaker sends an electrical impulse through a second cable to the hypoglossal nerve located under the tongue. The hypoglossal nerve is responsible for a person’s tongue movements. When an individual’s tongue is stimulated, the tongue does not relax and blocks the trachea (ie, airways). The tongue remains at the front and uppermost part of the pharynx and helps the sleeper avoid the life threatening condition of sleep apnea.

Somnologists Agree, Pacemaker Can Prevent Sleep Apnea

Doctor Alexander Blau, a somnologist and sleep scientist at the Charité – Universitätsmedizin, expressed that the neurotransmitter is a major achievement in the prevention of sleep apnea. Compared to CPAP sleep, the neurotransmitter does not restrict a patient’s mobility during sleep. Going to bed does not require the wearing of a mask and eliminates the need to be hooked up to a machine by a cable. According to Doctor Blau the patient “has regained some quality of life.” The patient simply turns on the neurotransmitter with a small remote control before laying down for bed, and goes about sleeping as any normal sleeper would. Doctor Blau believes the tongue pacemaker will become a viable treatment option for sleep apnea and snoring.

For more information about sleep apnea treatments read our articles about CPAP and Sleep Apnea Surgeries.

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Manny Erlich

International Foundation of Employee Benefits - Certified Employee Benefits Specialist