Pediatrics: Hypoglossal nerve stimulation implant helps with sleep apnea

April 12, 2024  14:37

Hypoglossal nerve stimulation has relieved sleep apnea in a 4-year-old boy with Down syndrome.

The results of the respective study were published in the journal Pediatrics.

Obstructive sleep apnea affects about 5% of children overall and 80% of children with Down syndrome. In this condition, breathing stops during sleep—often accompanied by snoring, and oxygen deficiency develops, which leads to impaired development of the brain and lungs. In adults, sleep apnea increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.

In May 2023, scientists implanted a device in a 4-year-old boy with Down syndrome and sleep apnea to stimulate the nerve that controls language. The device detects when the airway is blocked and sends an electrical impulse to the hypoglossal nerve, causing it to move forward, thereby opening the airway. The method of implantation has been modified so as not to interfere with the growth of the child.

One month later, the patient's sleep improved, and the severity of apnea decreased by 40%. Now he can sleep about 10 hours a day. Previously, the boy had to sleep with a special CPAP therapy mask for apnea, which he removed up to 15 times a day. In addition, the parents had to wake up to help him. The boy's family noted that he began to wake up easier in the morning, he was able to stay focused longer while studying, and his knowledge of words also improved considerably.

In 2014, a hypoglossal nerve stimulation device was approved in the United States. A year later, its effectiveness and safety have been proven for teenagers, and now—for small children. Removal of adenoids and tonsils is commonly used in order to treat children, but it is not always effective for children with Down syndrome.

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