That's according to Loyola University's Regina Walker, MD, and colleagues.
They studied 22 people who each got three of the small cylinders -- called palatal implants -- to ease obstructive sleep apnea.
Walker is to present the results Sept. 20 at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Otolaryngology -- Head and Neck Surgery in Toronto.
Obstructive sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which people stop breathing during sleep due to an airway blockage, usually due to the collapse of the soft palate at the back of the roof of the mouth, just before the throat opening.
Palatal implants are designed to bolster the soft palate, preventing its collapse.
The implants are inserted in one office visit under local anesthesia, can be removed, and aren't likely to interfere with other sleep apnea treatments, Walker's team notes.
Untreated sleep apnea makes serious conditions -- such as stroke and heart disease -- more likely. It also increases daytime sleepiness, hampering work, school, and driving.
Palatal Implant Study
Sixteen men and six women were patients in Walker's study. They ranged in age from 32 to 76, with an average age of 53. The participants first were screened to make sure they were good candidates for palatal implants.
The patients received the implants as part of a larger study and agreed to long-term follow-up.
Three months later, 13 of the 22 patients showed improvement in sleep apnea and daytime sleepiness. The benefits lasted for at least another year -- a total of 15 months after implantation -- for 10 of those 13 patients.
Based on the findings, "Palatal implants can be considered as an initial, minimally invasive surgical treatment option for properly selected patients," Walker's team writes.
Success Predictable Early
What about the nine patients who didn't show improvement in the first three months after getting the implants? They never caught up with the rest of the group.
In short, early success with the implants tended to last at least 15 months. But people who didn't see benefits initially weren't likely to improve later on.
No side effects were seen in any of the patients.
The study was small, so this may not be the last word on the implants.
SOURCES: Annual Meeting & OTO Expo of the American Academy of Otolaryngology -- Head and Neck Surgery, Toronto, Sept. 17-20, 2006. News release, American Academy of Otolaryngology -- Head and Neck Surgery.
By Miranda Hitti
Reviewed by Louise Chang