RF tongue base treatment is a minimally-invasive treatment option for snoring and sleep apnea. For many patients, obstructed breathing happens during sleep because of the the bulky soft tissues at the back of the tongue falling back and hitting the soft palate or throat. RF Tongue base treatment is performed to shrink this bulky soft tissue.
The procedure is performed in the office and takes less than 30 minutes. For most patients, a series of 3 treatment sessions will be planned about one month apart.
Topical and local anesthesia are applied to the back of the tongue via the mouth. Next, a curved radiofrequency probe is inserted underneath the mucus membrane at the back of the tongue. The radiofrequency energy emanates from the tip of the probe to cause a low level of heating to the surrounding soft tissues. This will cause contraction of the proteins and volumetric reduction of the bulky soft tissue at the back of the tongue.
Afterwards, there will be a sore spot at the back of the tongue for several days. Generally, this can be controlled adequately with over-the-counter pain medication, but prescription pain medication will be made available if needed. Patients can resume a normal diet and activities the next day. There are no incisions in the throat, so this procedure is much less pain than surgery of the tonsils and soft palate that has traditionally been done for treatment of obstructive sleep apnea.
Should I have RF Treatment of the Tongue Base?
Should I have RF treatment of the tongue base?
This procedure is indicated for mild to severe obstructive sleep apnea. A sleep study is needed to determine if you have sleep apnea if you have not already had one. We perform convenient home sleep studies if you have not yet had a sleep study.
One of our board-certified ENT doctors will examine your airway to assess which procedure(s) would be necessary for the best chance of cure. If your doctor determines that the tongue base is contributing to the obstruction, then RF treatment of the tongue base would be an excellent option.
Keep in mind that untreated obstructive sleep apnea is very harmful to your health. If you have been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, and you are not currently being treated, then you need to address this important health problem. If you have been told that you needed to wear a CPAP mask, but you are unable or unwilling to do so, then you should consider a minimally-invasive treatment that we provide.
What Are the Risks of the Procedure?
There will be some soreness at the back of the tongue for several days after each procedure. There may be rare instances of swelling or infection that would require hospitalization or surgery. There may be rare instances of tongue numbness, tongue weakness, difficulty with speech, or difficulty swallowing. There is always a chance that the snoring or sleep apnea will persist, which may result in needing another form of treatment.
What Are the Benefits of the Procedure?
Studies show that radiofrequency tongue base treatment is safe and effective. Specifically, the procedure has been shown to decrease apnea index scores as measured on sleep studies, decrease daytime sleepiness, and improve sleep-related quality of life. For a summary of the data on this procedure, please view the American Academy of Otolaryngology--Head & Neck Surgery position statement on the procedure.
This procedure is covered by most insurance plans for patients with a diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea. Deductibles or co-payment rules may apply as each individual plan dictates. We will verify insurance benefits so patients are aware of out-of-pockets costs that may be incurred.
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