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July 24, 2007 > New Surgical Options Make for a Better Night's Sleep

New Surgical Options Make for a Better Night's Sleep

Surgeon Focuses on Minimally Invasive Techniques to Alleviate Sleep Apnea

Obstructed sleep apnea - the repeated cessation of breathing - affects an estimated 12 million Americans, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). People with sleep apnea literally stop breathing repeatedly during their sleep, often for a minute or longer and as many as hundreds of times during a single night.

Sleep apnea can be caused by either complete obstruction of the airway, called obstructive apnea or partial obstruction, known as obstructive hypopnea, which is exhibited by slow, shallow breathing. Both types can wake sufferers and interrupt needed sleep.

Typically under-diagnosed, sleep apnea effects can far exceed the characteristic symptoms, such as snoring. The condition can cause a drop in oxygen levels, which may lead to pulmonary constriction, increasing the risk of diabetes, stroke, heart failure and arrhythmia, according to Dr. Jason Van Tassel, an otolaryngologist and head and neck surgeon, who recently joined the Washington Township Medical Group in Fremont.

"Sleep apnea's connection with sleep deprivation has been correlated with automobile accidents, and can impede a person's ability to lose weight due to diminished energy for exercise, perpetuating a vicious cycle, given that obesity is a contributing factor for sleep apnea," he says. "This is a big public health problem."

Dr. Van Tassel is one of the ground floor practitioners of the FDA-approved Pillar Implant procedure, which is emerging as one of the most effective methods in an arsenal of options for treating snoring problems and mild to moderate sleep apnea, with nearly an 80 percent success rate.

The outpatient treatment stiffens the soft tissue that makes up the back of the roof of the mouth, known as the soft palate, via the insertion of three small pegs of multiple polyester fibers together into precise specifications. These fibers act to reduce the vibration (snoring) of the soft palate that causes turbulent airflow, helping to alleviate sleep apnea's pattern of collapse and obstruction during sleep. Dr. Van Tassel likens the procedure to the structural support in the battens of a sail, which maximizes the boat's ability to move efficiently through the water.

By utilizing this lesser invasive approach in conjunction with other treatments, such as septoplasty - a corrective procedure that straightens the partition between the two nasal cavities to ease breathing or a surgical procedure to shorten the uvula - Dr. Van Tassel says he is able to further maximize each patient's outcome.

Through this approach, Dr. Van Tassel can restore a patient's healthy sleep patterns - not to mention his or her bed mate's - through a natural flow of breathing and an elimination of snoring.

Board certified by the American Board of Otolaryngology, Dr. Van Tassel specializes in treating diseases of the ears, nose and throat (ENT), including facial trauma, related facial plastic surgery, and endoscopy. Van Tassel treats hearing and voice problems and he performs an outpatient surgery called Functional Endoscopic Sinus Surgery (FESS) on people suffering from chronic sinus problems. Performed under the magnification of a small telescopic fiber-optic tube, known as an endoscope, FESS is precise enough to remove diseased tissue and bone, open the sinuses and help to restore the nose and sinus to health.

Dr. Van Tassel is also board certified by the American Board of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery and he performs a variety of facial rejuvenation procedures, whether it be an eyelid lift, mid or short scar facelift to improve the appearance of the aging face, or to augment a person's chin or cheek lines, He describes the procedures he performs as restorative rather than transformative in their final appearance.

"It's a natural result to the patient, their family members and their peers," Van Tassel says. "They look refreshed. I spend a lot of time focusing with the patient on what they looked like in their youth, so when we're restoring the canvas that is their face, we're not creating an entirely new portrait, but restoring one to its original condition. I don't see a patient as a one-dimensional picture I see them as a person in three dimensions."

His precise, minimally invasive surgical techniques utilized during rhinoplasty procedures - be it for aesthetic or health concerns - offer patients faster results and quicker healing time, with less bruising. "I have a focused eye on creating natural appearing results that are balanced with their face and don't look operated on," he says.

Find a doctor today

To find a local physician, call Washington Hospital's Health Connection line at (800) 963-7070 or search for a local physician by name, location, specialty and gender on Washington Hospital's Web site at www.whhs.com by clicking on "Find a Physician."

To learn more about the resources offered through the American Sleep Apnea Association, visit their website www.sleepapnea.org

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