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Pillar procedure

The pillar procedure is minor surgery intended to relieve habitual snoring and treat mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnea, a potentially serious disorder in which breathing is interrupted repeatedly during sleep. Both snoring and obstructive sleep apnea may result from a relaxation of muscles at the back of your throat.

The pillar procedure involves surgically placing small polyester rods in the soft palate. Each implant measures 18 millimeters (mm) in length — slightly less than an inch — and 1.5 mm in diameter. The subsequent healing of tissue around the implants stiffens the soft palate, thereby reducing relaxation and vibration of the tissue.

The pillar procedure is usually done in your doctor's office with local anesthesia.

Why it's done Risks How you prepare What you can expect Results

The pillar procedure is designed to:

  • Relieve snoring
  • Relieve symptoms of mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnea

If you have mild to moderate sleep apnea, you may be advised to try a less invasive, nonsurgical treatment first, such as continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). A CPAP machine uses a face mask to deliver just enough air pressure into your airway to prevent the blockage of airflow. Some people may need to use CPAP even after undergoing a pillar procedure.

It's not recommended for people who:

  • Have severe obstructive sleep apnea
  • Are significantly overweight or obese

Snoring and obstructive sleep apnea

As you sleep, muscles relax in the fleshy area at the back of your mouth (soft palate), as well as in your tongue and throat. These tissues can relax enough that they vibrate, causing snoring. Snoring can be a nuisance and interfere with your sleep or your bed partner's sleep. Snoring can also be an indication of obstructive sleep apnea, which is a more serious disorder.

When you have obstructive sleep apnea, the muscles in your mouth, tongue and throat may relax so much that they block your airway, causing you to stop breathing or to breathe shallowly, many times a night. This process can cause sudden drops in the amount of oxygen in your blood, and has been linked to serious health problems, such as high blood pressure and heart disease.

Other signs and symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea include restless sleep, frequent awakening, morning headache, choking or gasping after a pause in nighttime breathing, and daytime sleepiness.

If you snore or have other signs or symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea, see your doctor. You'll likely be referred to a sleep specialist or a specialist in ear, nose and throat disorders (ENT or otolaryngologist).

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