Breakthrough Device Could Help Sleep Apnea Sufferers

A tiny new implantable device could replace clumsy and cumbersome masks.

If you snore or have sleep apnea, there is a breakthrough treatment that may help, without the awkward masks typically used by chronic sufferers.

Sleep apnea, a condition that leads sleeping people to stop breathing for periods at night, can lead to high blood pressure and an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

It can occur because of a problem in the brain, but more often it’s the result of an obstruction in the throat. When sufferers are on their back, the tissue drops down and blocks breathing.

Medicines don’t help. Most people get what’s called a CPAP mask, which pushes air past the obstruction, but most people dislike the mask because of its size and cumbersome tubes. More than 50 percent of people prescribed to wear one never do, or stop using it within a few months.

Irwin LaBlanc has had trouble sleeping for seven years.

“My symptoms are waking up throughout the night, snoring that became more severe,” he said.

Sleeping tests showed that LaBlanc was suffering from sleep apnea.

At first, he was prescribed the CPAP mask, but he disliked the device.

“For me, it was more trouble than it was worth,” he said.

So doctors recommended a tiny new device called Inspire that can be implanted into a patient. It is implanted using three tiny incisions for a battery pack.

“A signal is sent to the battery,” said Dr. Ryan Osborne of Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center, who performed LaBlanc’s surgery. “The battery then stimulates the nerve that moves the tongue forward so the patient is able to continue to breathe normally.”

LeBlanc’s breathing has dramatically improved, his doctors said.

“He had at least 75 percent fewer episodes where he stopped breathing,” said Dr. Heather Davis-Kingston. “Having a device like this will save lives.”

LeBlanc said it has already changed his life.

“When I wake up in the morning, I can just tell how much better I feel when I get out of bed,” he said. “I’ve slept so much better.”

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