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What is Hypoglossal Nerve Stimulation Therapy for Sleep Apnea?

Even though continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy has proven to be the most beneficial for combating obstructive sleep apnea, those who suffer from the condition know how challenging and annoying sleeping with a mask can be. Therefore, many sufferers are looking for alternative ways to fight sleep apnea, one of which could be hypoglossal nerve stimulation (HGNS) therapy.

So, read on and find out what hypoglossal nerve stimulation (HGNS) therapy is and how it can help you relieve obstructive sleep apnea:

What is Hypoglossal Nerve Stimulation?

The nerve that goes from the brain stem down through the neck and goes back over the tongue is called the hypoglossal nerve. Thanks to this nerve people have motor control over the tongue muscles.

And, as you can suggest, the HGNS therapy (also referred to as upper airway stimulation, or a tongue pacemaker) is a treatment that involves stimulation of the hypoglossal nerve to stiffen the tongue muscles which when relaxed can block the airway and result in breathing obstruction.

To be more precise, sleep apnea sufferers who want to try the HGNS therapy have a stimulating device and a breathing sensor implanted into their chest. This device should be turned on when people go to bed and turn off once they wake up by using a small remote.

Furthermore, it’s worth mentioning that HGNS isn’t like other surgical treatment options for sleep apnea since it doesn’t require removing or altering the facial or airway anatomy.

Is HGNS an Alternative to SPAP Therapy for Sleep Apnea?

As we already mentioned above, the hypoglossal nerve stimulation (HGNS) therapy can be considered as an alternative way to relieve obstructive sleep apnea.

The truth is, different studies have been done to evaluate the efficiency of HGNS on sleep apnea sufferers, both on those who experience mild and those who have severe symptoms. These studies show that airflow is significantly increased in all patients and that the hypoglossal nerve stimulation therapy provides remarkable relief of obstructive sleep apnea across a wide range of severity.

However, we must note that the HGNS therapy shouldn’t be the first type of treatment you try. Indeed, the FDA (The Food and Drug Administration) criteria imply that since this is an invasive therapy, clinicians should prescribe it only after the CPAP therapy has been tried for at least three months.

Namely, in order to be eligible to try the HGNS therapy, your apnea-hypopnea index (AHI) must be somewhere between 20 and 65. But, there are no FDA restrictions regarding body mass index (BMI) – a metric used to diagnose obesity.

Still, the developer of the world’s first fully implanted neurostimulation device that’s approved by the FDA for treating obstructive sleep apnea – Inspire – recommends that people who have a BMI over 32, shouldn’t try this therapy.

But, that’s not all! Patients should also see an ENT (ear, nose, and throat) physician for a thorough evaluation. To be a good candidate for getting the Inspire device, a patient should have very specific anatomy and a complete concentric collapse at the soft palate level.

Unfortunately, 10 to 20 percent of patients who want to have an Inspire device implanted in their chest cannot undergo the surgery due to contraindication i.e. having a lateral wall collapse and an anteroposterior collapse of the soft palate.

The bottom line, there are many restrictions regarding who can try the hypoglossal nerve stimulation therapy for sleep apnea. But, if the CPAP therapy hasn’t helped you relieve symptoms, then you should definitely consider HGNS therapy as an option.

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