Simply put, the tongue pacemaker is a device that intervenes when there is a danger of complications from sleep apnea, like stopping to breathe altogether.
If you are suffering from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) there are many treatment available. The most widely used one is your doctor prescribing an oxygen mask you wear at night to aid your breathing. Or he or she may recommend your tonsils to be removed or the entire throat to be tightened with a laser. However, not all approaches are successful.
So, most recently, the tongue nerve pacemaker has become available as a new option for patients suffering from OSA.
With a simple surgery, the patient has a pacemaker-like device (the official term is Hypoglossal Nerve Stimulation), implanted in the right upper chest wall and an electrical cuff is placed around the nerve that protrudes your tongue (the hypoglossal nerve). A sensor lead is placed below the pacemaker device to detect breathing efforts. The device senses when you are making an effort to breathe, and creates an electrical signal to push your tongue forward, opening up your airway being the tongue and soft palate. The minor incisions will heal within a few days and a sleep specialist will need to regulate the strength of the outgoing impulses. It is advisable to test the pacemaker after 4 weeks with a sleep consultant to fine-tune the device. This information taken from the link below.
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The pacemaker is activated by means of a remote control shortly before going to bed. The activation period begins roughly at about 30 minutes. At that point, the sensor controls the breathing. Once irregular breathing occurs, the electrode on the tongue emits electrical impulses. The electric shocks ensure that the surrounding tissue tightens. The result is a tongue that will not go slack and sinks into the throat area. This keeps the airways free for proper breathing.
Studies show that patients treated with the pacemaker experience 80% fewer breathing pauses each night. Since the airways remain free, the decrease in oxygen in the blood can be prevented. Overall, the quality of life for those affected improves greatly.
Currently, patients who who suffer from sleep apnea and had no success with breathing masks etc. are eligible for the treatment.
The device cannot be used if the tonsils are too large or the jaw is too small. If you have suffered from heart failure or are overweight it will need to be evaluated by a medical professional.
It is proven that the vast majority of the people treated with the pacemaker hardly ever snore. However, the therapy is used primarily for patients who suffer from life-threatening pauses in breathing.
If you have not fallen asleep after 30 minutes, you might notice tiny electrical impulses in your throat.
Another disadvantage is that the battery will need to be replaced after a few years of usage. You will need to take some precautionary measures in everyday life such as distance yourselves from electrical devices with magnetic fields. Certain sports activities such as diving or weightlifting should be approached with caution.
It is relatively new and not all hospitals offer this service. You should consult with your doctor first.