Robotic Surgery Relieves Snoring and Cures Sleep Apnea - Virtua Article

Robotic Surgery Relieves Snoring and Cures Sleep Apnea

By , Virtua Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) Surgeon

If you struggle with snoring and sleep apnea, you might feel like getting a good night’s sleep is impossible. Thanks to advances in robotic technology, however, transoral robotic sleep apnea (TORSA) surgery can open blocked airways and improve or completely cure sleep apnea with minimal discomfort and downtime.

What is sleep apnea? 

Sleep apnea is a serious condition that occurs when your breathing is interrupted during sleep. The most common form of sleep apnea, called obstructive sleep apnea, is caused by a blockage in your airway. Airway blockages usually are attributed to one or more of the following conditions:

  • Nasal obstruction caused by a deviated septum (when the bone/cartilage that separates the nasal cavity is off-center making breathing difficult), large turbinates (structures inside the nasal cavity that help warm and moisturize air as it flows through the nose), nasal polyps (non-cancerous growths) or allergic rhinitis (“allergies” or hay fever)
  • A small mouth or a large tongue
  • Large tonsils, adenoids, uvula or palate
  • Collapse of the back of the tongue
  • Extra weight around the chest or abdomen
  • Airway swelling caused by acid reflux

Because your sleep is being interrupted—sometimes hundreds of times each night—sleep apnea can make you feel sluggish and tired during the day. If left untreated, sleep apnea can result in an increased risk for other health problems including high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, diabetes, depression, headaches and even death.

What is TORSA?

Transoral robotic sleep apnea (TORSA) surgery is performed through the mouth. The surgeon uses a surgical robot to assist in operating on the area in the back of the throat that’s too small and narrow to be reached by human hands. Virtua is one of the few hospitals offering this advanced surgery.

During TORSA surgery, the robotic surgery system functions as a member of the surgical team and helps extend the surgeon’s eyes and hands into the surgical area. The surgeon is in complete control of the robot, guiding the robotic arms to reduce the size of the tonsils, uvula, palate or the back of the tongue, as needed. A tiny 3-D, high-definition camera held by one of the system’s robotic arms lets the surgeon see the entire surgical area on a screen.

TORSA surgery is performed under general anesthesia and takes less than two hours to complete. The amount of discomfort after surgery is minimal and depends on the area of the throat that's affected. Some patients experience a sore throat for 10-14 days after surgery, but many experience very little pain at all. Depending on your job, you may be able to return to work or school in as few as 3 days after TORSA surgery. However, you should plan to take off at least 10-14 days.

What are the benefits of TORSA?

TORSA allows your surgeon to provide effective treatment—and in many cases, a cure—for a condition that couldn’t otherwise be treated with surgery. Every patient who undergoes a TORSA procedure experiences improvement or complete relief from sleep apnea. Patients may notice:

  • Improved breathing
  • Absent snoring
  • Deeper sleep
  • Dreaming during sleep
  • Increased energy
  • Weight loss
  • Discontinued use of or reduced pressure on continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) or bilevel positive airway pressure (BiPAP) machines

Robotic technology also allows your surgeon to perform precise, real-time movements that help minimize blood loss and scarring and shorten recovery time. And, because your surgeon is in control of the robotic system throughout the procedure, your sleep apnea surgery can be fully customized to your unique needs and anatomy.

Is TORSA right for me? 

Although TORSA is a new and innovative surgery that provides relief for sleep apnea sufferers, it may not be right for everyone. In order to find the right sleep apnea treatment for you, your doctor or sleep specialist will conduct a complete evaluation to determine the exact cause of your condition.

If you have multiple conditions that contribute to your sleep apnea, your doctor may recommend trying non-surgical or less invasive treatments before considering TORSA surgery. Options include:

  • Medication to improve sleep apnea symptoms in allergy or acid reflux sufferers.
  • CPAP or BiPAP machines to resolve sleep apnea symptoms caused by obesity or anatomical issues, such as a small mouth or large tongue.
  • Nasal surgery to relieve nasal symptoms.

If you’re suffering from sleep apnea that has not responded to other treatments, TORSA may be able to help you get a restful night’s sleep. Call 1-888-VIRTUA to consult with a Virtua robotic surgeon

Updated October 11, 2017

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