In the past people have opted out of undergoing sleep surgery because of the pain involved, but now a new procedure using a hypoglossal nerve stimulator can treat sleep apnea with significantly less pain for patients.

The hypoglossal nerve stimulator, which acts as a “pacemaker for the tongue,” received U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval in summer 2014, says Dr. Mas Takashima, director of The Sinus Center at Baylor College of Medicine and associate professor of medicine in the Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery at Baylor.

Takashima will be the first sleep surgeon in Houston to perform this procedure and it will take place at Houston Methodist Hospital.

Unlike past sleep apnea surgeries, this method does not involve cutting inside the mouth or throat, which makes it less painful and shortens recovery time for patients.

“This treatment is a completely different way of thinking about sleep apnea,” said Takashima. “In the past, the idea was to make the air passageway of the mouth and throat bigger through intensive surgery. This new treatment uses stimulation of natural mechanisms of the body to prevent breathing obstructions.”

The hypoglossal nerve stimulator works by using a pacemaker that is placed underneath the skin of the chest wall and has two wires – one connecting to the chest musculature and the other to the back of the tongue. Every time the patient tries to breathe, the sensory lead recognizes that muscles are contracting and sends a signal to the tongue to move, as to not block the airway.

The device comes with a remote, so the patient can turn it off during the day, and has a battery life of 10 years.

Takashima says the pain associated with other sleep apnea treatments cause patients to lose around 15 to 20 pounds because of the inability to sufficiently eat after having incisions in their mouth and throat.

Another advantage of this technique is that it is reversible if removal is indicated for any reason.

For more information or to participate in the qualifying diagnostic test, contact 713-798-3982.