Hypoglossal stimulation is a modern form of therapy used mainly in treating obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). The lingual nerve (hypoglossal nerve) is stimulated to keep the airways open during sleep.
Obstructive sleep apnea involves repeated stopping of breathing during sleep caused by a narrowing or blockage of the upper airway. One of the leading causes is the tongue falling back into the throat. Hypoglossal stimulation counteracts this mechanism by activating the hypoglossal nerve with electrical impulses. This results in forward movement of the tongue and stabilization of the airway.
Tongue stimulation involves implanting a small device under the skin, similar to a pacemaker. This device is connected to a strand of electrodes placed directly on the lingual nerve. The patient activates the device with a remote control before going to bed. During sleep, the device sends rhythmic impulses to the lingual nerve synchronized with breathing.
This form of therapy represents an effective alternative or supplement to other treatment methods, such as CPAP devices (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) or jaw surgery. Hypoglossal surgery can be performed mainly in patients who cannot tolerate CPAP devices or for whom jaw surgery is not an option. Stimulation leads to a significant improvement in sleep quality and a reduction in sleep apnea symptoms such as daytime sleepiness.
Hypoglossal stimulation is particularly suitable for patients with moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea who have failed or cannot tolerate conservative (non-surgical) therapies. Before deciding on this treatment, a comprehensive medical examination, including a sleep endoscopy, is required to determine the patient’s suitability.
Therefore, hypoglossal stimulation represents an innovative approach to treating obstructive sleep apnea. By directly stimulating the hypoglossal nerve, it can significantly improve breathing and, thus, the quality of life of the affected patients.