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David Volpi, M.D., P.C., F.A.C.S.

David Volpi, M.D., P.C., F.A.C.S.

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Could a Simple Procedure Be the Key to Treating Snoring?

Posted: 04/18/11 01:36 PM ET

A relatively new in-office medical technique is being touted among snoring specialists as a successful treatment for snoring in many patients.

A relatively painless procedure that can be performed in a doctor's office in about 20 minutes, using only local anesthetic, is giving hope to snorers everywhere. More than 40,000 snorers have been treated with the Pillar® Procedure worldwide, and lasting, positive results are being realized.

The Pillar Procedure is a minimally invasive, simple and safe treatment for snoring and mild to moderate snoring, including snoring caused by Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) in many patients. Snoring is caused by the fluttering of the soft palate when the muscles in the back of the throat relax while asleep. The relaxed muscles obstruct airflow, which causes vibration as the air flows out while breathing, and creates the snoring sound.

Although snoring may seem like just an annoyance, it keeps snorers from getting the appropriate amount of restful, recuperative sleep they need for their body to function properly. The sleep loss associated with snoring can affect a person's ability to concentrate, learn and reason. It causes memory loss and irritability, and impairs motor skills such as driving. It can even lead to depression.

Snoring doesn't just affect the one who snores. Relationships suffer when a bed partner's sleep is also disturbed because it causes the same symptoms of daytime fatigue to the body as the offending party's snoring. That means both can be suffering from irritability, lack of concentration, and drowsy driving. Depending on how loud the snoring is, one's whole family can be affected.

However, when snoring is caused by Obstructive Sleep Apnea, it's the snorer who needs to be concerned about even more serious health issues. OSA causes a person to stop breathing many times through the night because the muscles in the back of the throat relax so much that tissue actually blocks the airway passage. People who suffer from sleep apnea stop breathing dozens of times during sleep and may not breathe for as much as three quarters of the of the time that they're sleep. It can be potentially life threatening because repeated stops and starts in breathing can cause a drop in the amount of oxygen in your blood. Apnea is particularly severe when there are more than twenty or thirty events per hour. It is known to be linked to high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, lung disease and stroke.

For many years, the CPAP unit was considered by doctors to be the "gold standard" in treating snoring. It is a machine that delivers a continuous flow of air through the upper respiratory tract and keeps the throat muscles from collapsing. The CPAP unit consists of a small air pressure generator that rests on a night stand near the bed that is connected by tubing to a snug-fitting nasal mask that is worn while sleeping. Although extremely effective, getting patients to comply with using it has been extremely difficult. Many snorers report that it is uncomfortable to sleep with the nasal mask, and they describe feeling claustrophobic and that the noise from the machine keeps them from falling asleep.

Since there is a high rate of non-compliance of the CPAP and there are some cases when it doesn't work, surgery has also been an option. Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP) has been a common surgical procedure for obstructive sleep apnea for many years. It is performed under general anesthesia, and involves removing the uvula and a small portion of the soft palate which can have a painful recovery. Another surgical technique to treat OSA is maxillofacial surgery which reduces airway obstruction at the base of the tongue, below the level of the palate and tonsils. There are additional forms of surgery that involve moving or repositioning muscles and bones in the jaw that have been used to treat apnea, with the most drastic being a tracheotomy which involves creating a surgical opening in the windpipe, and placing a tube through the hole.

Perhaps that is why doctors and their patients are so encouraged by the success they are seeing with the Pillar Procedure. It can be done in a doctor's office in 10 to 20 minutes, there is little pain reported and there is a very high success rate. The procedure stiffens the soft palate and by offering structural support, reduces the vibration of the tissue that is causing the snoring. During the procedure, three small polyester implants are placed into the soft palate and over time, the implants, together with the body's natural fibrotic response, provide support to the soft palate.

The Pillar Procedure was approved by the FDA in 2004, and so far more than 40,000 people have been treated with it, according to Pillar manufacturer, Medtronics. Physicians have found that afterwards, most of their patients' snoring was treated completely, or reduced significantly. Once snoring stops, serious daytime sleep deprivation symptoms that their snoring was causing are also diminished. Hopefully so too are their relationship difficulties, and the whole family can enjoy peaceful, restful sleep.

For more information on the Pillar Procedure, visit the Manhattan Snoring and Sleep Center,