NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – A new experimental device may provide relief to sufferers of sleep apnea.

As CBS 2’s Dr. Max Gomez reported, if you stop breathing or snore like a buzz saw at night, you may suffer from the serious condition.

Studies have linked sleep apnea to everything from obesity to heart attacks. The condition also causes sufferers to wake up dozens of times a night, putting those sleepy drivers at risk of having more car accidents.

“This is associated with a variety of cardiovascular consequences. That is increased risk of arrhythmias, increased risk of stroke, increased risk of heart attacks,” Dr. Harneet Walia at the Cleveland Clinic said.

An implanted nerve stimulator may ease the problems associated with sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea is caused when muscles at the back of the throat relax during sleep.

The tissues collapse and block the airway until carbon dioxide builds up enough to force a gasp for air.

Some sufferers of the condition currently use a CPAP machine, which pushes air under slight pressure into the user’s airway to keep it open.

But a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine reports that an experimental electronic nerve stimulator can help.

“The severity of the disease significantly decreased. They also found that the sleepiness scores, as reported by the patients, improved with this therapy,” said Dr. Walia.

The Inspire device is implanted in a patient’s chest like a pacemaker used for heart conditions. A sensor detects your body’s attempt to breathe and sends a signal to the pulse generator which, in turn, sends a mild stimulation to the nerve that controls the muscles at the base of the tongue.

That stimulation increases muscle tone, which helps open the airway, Gomez reported.

Researchers think the Inspire system may provide a benefit to people with obstructive sleep apnea who don’t like or can’t get used to CPAP therapy.

While the inspire device is approved in Europe, it’s still considered experimental in the U.S. and is not yet available here.

Surgery is required to have the device implanted. That carries the usual risks of infection, anesthesia and so on. The device is for those with truly severe apnea, Gomez reported.

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