Sleep apnea patient benefits from neurostimulator device

A device designed to alleviate snoring has been fitted to a patient in Germany.

The device, a so-called tongue pacemaker, is said to prevent pauses in breathing during sleep.

Physicians at Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin’s Department of Otolaryngology used the device for a patient who suffers from obstructive sleep apnea syndrome.

The condition arises when the upper-throat muscles are excessively relaxed during sleep. Consequently, parts of the respiratory tract narrow and the person has difficulty breathing. The typical snoring noises occur when the affected person tries to get air through the blocked airways.

According to a statement, the neurostimulator is smaller than a box of matches and is implanted, like a heart pacemaker, underneath the collarbone.

From there, an ultra-thin cable is said to lead to the bottom edge of the ribcage where diaphragm movement is measured and individual breathing frequency is monitored.

When the patient inhales and his diaphragm contracts, the pacemaker sends a weak electrical impulse through a second cable to the hypoglossal nerve.

This nerve is located directly under the tongue and is responsible for contraction of the tongue muscle.

When it is stimulated, the tongue does not relax and block the airway, but stays in the sleeping person’s uppermost part of the pharynx.

Somnologist and sleep researcher Dr Alexander Blau said that the neurostimulator is a significant step in treating sleep apnea.

Compared with previous therapies using breathing masks, the patients’ nocturnal movements are no longer restricted.

‘The patient has regained a piece of his quality of life,’ said Blau. ‘Before he goes to bed, he can simply turn on the device with a small remote control.’