Pillar procedure: A new sleep apnea treatment?

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Pillar procedure: A new sleep apnea treatment?


My husband has obstructive sleep apnea. We've been investigating treatment options and are interested in the Pillar procedure. What can you tell us about it?

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The Pillar procedure is a minimally invasive treatment for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and snoring that involves placement of three tiny polyester rods in the soft palate. This relatively new treatment is recommended for people with mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnea.

Obstructive sleep apnea is caused by narrowing of the upper airway during sleep. As air is forced down the narrowed airway, the surrounding tissues vibrate — producing snoring. Further narrowing and collapse of these tissues results in episodes of obstruction that interrupts breathing.

Some, but not all, of the upper airway narrowing and collapse in sleep apnea occurs at the level of the soft palate — the fleshy tissue visible at the back of your opened mouth. The inserts stiffen and support the tissue of the soft palate and reduce upper airway collapse and snoring. The Pillar procedure is usually performed in your doctor's office with local anesthesia and takes less than 30 minutes.

Keep in mind, not everyone with obstructive sleep apnea is a candidate for the Pillar procedure. The treatment is not recommended for people with severe OSA or other types of apnea. Also, the Pillar procedure may be less effective in overweight individuals. An evaluation by an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist can help determine if the Pillar procedure is appropriate in your husband's specific situation.

Large clinical trials are under way, including at Mayo Clinic, to further assess the effectiveness of this treatment for OSA.

Last Updated: 03/09/2007
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