Radiofrequency Tissue Reduction (Somnoplasty)

Overview

Radiofrequency tissue reduction, or somnoplasty, is a simple outpatient procedure to help people suffering from sleep apnea or other sleep-related problems. This procedure enlarges the space within the nose and throat area, allowing for easier breathing during sleep.

The procedure can be particularly helpful for patients suffering from a type of apnea known as obstructive apnea. Somnoplasty uses radiofrequency (RF) energy to provide a minimally invasive and less painful treatment of upper airway obstructions under local anesthesia. This procedure also is referred to as “radiofrequency volumetric tissue reduction” (RFVTR) or “radiofrequency ablation.”

Obstructive apnea is the most common form of apnea, caused by blockage of the back of the nose and throat area while the patient is asleep. Apnea, from the Greek word meaning “without breath,” causes pauses in breathing during sleep, sometimes for 20 seconds or longer several hundred times per night. The National Institutes of Health estimate that more than 12 million Americans, young and old, suffer from apnea. Obstructive apnea occurs more commonly in older adults and is seen more often in men than in women.

Symptoms of the obstructive apnea include:
  • Snoring.
  • Gasping for air.
  • Restless sleep.
  • Sleeping in unusual positions.
Procedures like somnoplasty or radiofrequency tissue reduction, a type of minimally invasive therapy, may be recommended only after conservative treatment options have been tried. Or it may be recommended in addition to the treatment. These recommendations may include:
  • Weight-loss regimen, if appropriate.
  • Smoking cessation.
  • Practicing good sleep hygiene.
  • Night-time dental appliance that may be fitted by a dentist.
Your doctor may also recommend a sleep study to better understand the nature of the apnea before beginning any type of therapy. Some patients may also be directed to use a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. However, patients who undergo somnoplasty often do so as an alternative to CPAP therapy.

Procedural Details

The somnoplasty system uses a slender electrode to create small lesions beneath the surface of the tissue, near the back of the tongue or even around the tonsils. The procedure reduces and tightens the tissue in the area, helping to increase the amount of space at the back of the throat.

The somnoplasty procedure is done on an outpatient basis in the doctor’s office using local anesthesia. The entire procedure can take as little as 30-45 minutes.

Your doctor may choose to monitor your progress overnight following the procedure. The patient is able to return to normal activities the next day. The doctor may recommend mild over-the-counter medications for any pain or discomfort experienced in the few days following the procedure.

Considerations

Somnoplasty may be helpful for those suffering from obstructive sleep apnea or other sleep-related disorders. Serious apnea should be properly diagnosed and treated since excessive drowsiness may lead to dangerous accidents, such as falling asleep while driving. Some types of apnea can even lead to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. If you suffer from central apnea, a consultation with a cardiologist (heart specialist) or neurologist (nerve specialist) also may be advised.

Effectiveness

Studies have shown that somnoplasty is a safe and effective treatment that can help reduce apnea and snoring. Patients and their family members report positive results from somnoplasty, including a decrease in loud snoring. The procedure may need to be repeated to fully treat the symptoms.

Risks

Patients may experience some discomfort for a few days following the somnoplasty procedure, including:
  • Difficulty swallowing.
  • Pain.
  • Bleeding.
  • Crusting.
  • Dryness.
In addition, you may need a repeat procedure to fully resolve your symptoms. Talk to your doctor about concerns you may have prior to the procedure.

Because apnea can be a sign of more serious underlying disease, such as heart disease, it is important for a person with apnea symptoms to see his or her doctor. Once the cause of the apnea is understood, then your doctor can recommend the right course of treatment for you.

If it is severe, apnea may result in an incomplete night of sleep, and the person may feel sleepy the rest of the day. The lack of sleep may affect performance at school and work. Other than symptoms of drowsiness, the person may not even know that he or she suffers from apnea, but may be alerted to loud snoring by a partner or family member.

Urgency

When obstructive apnea becomes more serious, it may be linked to heart disease or stroke. Therefore, it should be treated as soon as is possible. Apnea can be a sign of serious underlying disease. It is important that the underlying cause of the apnea be correctly diagnosed and treated.