A new treatment for snoring – which takes just three minutes to carry out under local anaesthetic – may solve the problem for thousands of sufferers.
The technique uses radio frequency waves to heat and stiffen the tissue of the soft palate, and can give long-term relief to around half of suitable patients.
It works by creating scar tissue, which is much less flexible than other tissue. By directing the radio waves at the soft palate, doctors can make it more rigid, and stop it flapping and vibrating noisily as the snorer breathes in and out.
Research shows the technique improved life in the short-term for eight out of ten people with a persistent snoring problem which had not responded to first line treatments such as losing weight. In half of the cases, there was longer-term relief.
Glen Williams, a 42-year- old Birmingham businessman, is one patient who stopped snoring as a result of the treatment. ‘My snoring had become a big problem,’ he says. ‘I don’t know why I started – getting older, I suppose – but whatever the cause it was loud and keeping both myself and my wife awake at night.
‘In the end, I was having to spend most nights in the spare bedroom because we were both ending up very tired in the morning. I tried all the usual things, including using special sticky tape across the nose – the sort sportsmen use – to improve my breathing. But nothing worked.’
Snoring, which affects almost half of the adult population of the UK at some time in their lives, is a result of soft tissue or muscles in the air passages vibrating.
During sleep, the muscles in the tongue, throat and roof of the mouth relax, causing the loose tissue in the throat to sag.
Breathing flaps this soft tissue about, leading to narrowing or, in some cases, complete obstruction of the airways. The narrower the airways become, the greater the vibration, and the louder the snoring.
The new technique uses a small probe or wand to warm the inner tissue of the palate to a temperature of around 80 degrees Centigrade.
This process, which is repeated three times, creates a band of scar tissue under the surface that is more rigid than normal tissue and which makes the soft palate less likely to move about.
‘It is a fascinating new technique that stiffens the soft palate by forming a scar band,’ says Dr Paul Montgomery, consultant ear, nose and throat surgeon at the Norwich BUPA Hospital.
‘The pain levels associated with the procedure are very low because the tissue that is heated
is under the surface, where there are fewer nerves. Afterwards, patients can use paracetamol to treat the pain, which is at the level of, say, a sore throat.’
Doctors who have used the treat-ment – which costs around £700 to have done privately – say a patient’s snoring will continue to improve during the four to six weeks after the procedure as the tissue continues to tighten and heal.
Dr David Morgan, consultant ear, nose and throat surgery at Heart-lands Hospital, Birmingham, says it has important advantages over other forms of treatment. ‘It has an advantage over other procedures in that it is not painful and it is non-invasive,’ he says.
‘Our initial results show that 50 per cent of patients benefit in the longer term, and 80 per cent in the short term.
‘There have been so many different surgical treatments over the years, but many of them have been associated with high complication rates and high failure rates. The advantage of this new technique is that it is very simple, takes only minutes under local or general anaesthetic, and the results are good.’