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More Successful Sleep Apnea Treatment Now Available

Local physician worked with Los Gatos-based company to develop new procedure

Up to 18 million Americans have trouble with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), according to estimates from the American Association for Respiratory Care. OSA is a potentially serious, chronic condition that occurs when a person’s throat muscles relax during sleep. As a result, the airway closes partially or completely and breathing stops and starts repeatedly—up to 100 times a night.

With OSA, the brain and the rest of the body may not get enough oxygen. A person may also snore loudly and feel tired and sleepy the next day, even after they’ve had a full night’s sleep. Statistics show that up to 7 percent of men and up to 5 percent of women in the U.S. experience daytime sleepiness associated with OSA.

If left untreated, OSA can lead to serious health problems, such as high blood pressure, stroke, heart failure, diabetes and depression. Experts also believe it affects a person’s ability to carry out everyday activities and contributes to an increased risk for car crashes and accidents at work, as well as poor performance at school.

The most common non-invasive treatment for moderate to severe OSA is continuous positive airway pressure or CPAP. But, CPAP only works if the patient uses the device regularly while sleeping. Studies have shown up to 40 percent of CPAP users fail to stick with the therapy over the long term. When CPAP fails, the next best solution is upper airway surgery. A procedure called uvulopalatopharyngoplasty, or UPPP, removes excess tissue in the throat to make the airway wider.

“Unfortunately, many OSA sufferers still don’t get relief from this surgery,” reported Jason Van Tassel, MD, an ear, nose and throat specialist with Washington Township Medical Foundation. Dr. Van Tassel has been performing the procedure since 2005. “About 15 million people in the U.S. who have undergone UPPP surgery have not experienced significant improvement in their sleep apnea. So, they remain untreated.”

Last February, the FDA approved a new minimally invasive procedure that is revolutionizing surgical treatment for OSA. Called hyoid myotomy suspension, it is done in conjunction with UPPP and has doubled the treatment’s success rate, according to early tests. The procedure uses a device developed by Dr. Van Tassel in collaboration with a Los Gatos-based company specializing in sleep apnea treatment.

With this new procedure, the surgeon is able to clear multiple levels of a patient’s airway. This is an important advancement because most sleep apnea involves obstruction in more than one part of the airway.

“We are now doing the procedure at Washington Hospital and its Outpatient Surgery Center. It takes about 40 minutes, which is significantly shorter than the time required for UPPP surgery,” said Dr. Van Tassel. “Patients have experienced minimal pain during healing, and there have been few complications. Our patients have been very satisfied.”

“Small studies have shown that the new procedure is 75 percent successful in treating sleep apnea,” Dr. Van Tassel confirmed.

Learn More

To learn about Washington Township Medical Foundation, go to For more information about Washington Hospital and the Washington Outpatient Surgery Center, visit To find out more about sleep apnea, go to