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Breakthrough Treatment for Sleep Apnea: Silver Cross First in Area to Offer Transoral Robotic Surgery

Breakthrough Treatment for Sleep Apnea: Silver Cross First in Area to Offer Transoral Robotic Surgery

Are oversized tonsils getting in the way of a good night’s sleep? Enlarged lingual tonsils—those located at the back of the tongue—are a leading cause of obstructive sleep apnea, a potentially dangerous condition in which breathing stops several hundred times a night.

But transoral robotic surgery (TORS) now available at The Midwest Institute for Robotic Surgery at Silver Cross Hospital offers one of the latest advances in sleep medicine. TORS uses the da Vinci® robotic-assisted surgical system to treat severe obstructive sleep apnea by removing or reducing the size of the enlarged lingual tonsils. Best of all, the minimally invasive procedure is “incision-less,” meaning all work is done through the mouth, not through incisions in the neck.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea affects more than 18 million Americans; it occurs when soft tissue in the back of the throat collapses during sleep, blocking the airway. Not only do sleep apnea sufferers feel tired much of the day, they’re at higher risk for depression, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke and even death.

Before surgery, the most often-prescribed treatments include changes in lifestyle habits such as weight loss, oral appliances and breathing devices like the continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) mask.

Surgical Treatment for Sleep Apnea

“With TORS, we’re able to perform surgery through the mouth—or transorally,” explains Sung Chung, M.D., who together with Rajeev Mehta, M.D., are specially trained in TORS procedures at Silver Cross. Both are board-certified ear, nose, throat specialists and head/neck surgeons.

“TORS allows us to remove obstructions blocking a patient’s airway on the base of the tongue—and work farther back in the throat with precision,” Dr. Mehta adds.

The two surgeons successfully performed the first TORS procedures at Silver Cross in February. They’re among a handful of surgeons in the Midwest using the technique.

Thanks to its high-definition, 3-D camera, the da Vinci system offers unparalleled views of the back of the throat. And its sophisticated robotic instrumentation, which translates the surgeon’s movements to a robotic arm, allows surgeons to work in tight, hard-to-reach places with the utmost precision.

Because the procedure is performed through the mouth, patients experience significantly less pain and recovery time. In most cases, patients are released from the hospital one or two days after surgery. Full recovery takes up to four weeks.

Before TORS, patients with obstructive sleep apnea had few choices when surgery was required. The traditional, open technique is performed through a neck incision. The jaw is often cut, and bone repositioned with screws, pulling the attached tongue base forward. The procedure results in a lengthy recovery time for patients before they can return to everyday life. To be considered for TORS, patients must first be assessed in the office. This usually includes a review of sleep study results and an evaluation by the otolaryngologist to identify what tissue obstruction is causing the sleep apnea. If the tongue base is found to be a cause of the obstruction, the patient is a candidate for the TORS sleep apnea procedure.

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