New device implanted to treat sleep apnea proven to be less invasive, doctors say

A new device implantation can help fight sleep apnea

HOUSTON – Snoring, irritability, and morning headaches are symptoms of sleep apnea. They may seem benign, but without treatment, the condition can lead to several health complications, including high blood pressure, diabetes, and liver problems.

Plus, sleep apnea patients face a greater risk of suffering complications from COVID-19.

There is a device that can be surgically implanted to treat sleep apnea.

While a lot of people steered clear of the operation before, a new, less invasive way to implant the device is making it more attractive to patients.

Ibaldo Borrego from Magnolia said he hasn’t had much success with other ways to treat his sleep apnea and he knows it’s bad for his health and a concern for his wife.

“She feels I stop breathing, so she starts nudging me and stuff. But yea, she worries a lot,” Borrego said.

To permanently fix the problem, Borrego agreed to have the surgery at Baylor St. Luke’s in the Texas Medical Center Monday morning.

During the short surgery, surgeon Andrew Huang implants a device that controls the patient’s tongue.

“In essence, to basically use your own muscles to help you breathe rather than the usual obstruction that happens in the condition,” Huang said.

Huang said it’s a less invasive procedure than devices like this used to be because now it just takes two small incisions: one on the neck to implant the device and another on the chest to place a battery. An external remote activates the device nightly before the patient falls asleep.

“Actually, the technology does have a lot of useful features that we use for everyday life so you’re actually able to check the usage on your cell phone,” Dr. Huang said. “You can actually get an app that’s linked to your implant that will actually tell you how many hours you’re using it per night, what is its usefulness, what is your sleep quality. So, these are really great because you can follow it, but not feel like you’re tethered to your previous CPAP machine.”

Huang said it’s an outpatient procedure. He said the recovery is quick and pain is typically managed with over-the-counter pain medication.

Borrego said he was happy to have it done.

The only patients Huang does not recommend to get this implant is people who have a BMI greater than 35. He said weight loss is more beneficial at treating sleep apnea than operating would be on those patients.

St. Luke’s said the majority of insurance companies are covering this procedure since it has a high success rate of treating the condition.