What is the Pillar Procedure?

Jacquelyn Gilchrist

The Pillar procedure is a simple treatment used to address chronic snoring and obstructive sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a disorder in which the patient periodically stops and starts breathing while asleep. In this procedure, a doctor places three small implants into the soft palate — located at the back of the mouth's roof, close to the throat — to reinforce those tissues and reduce obstruction.

Three small implants are placed in the mouth's soft palate in the pillar procedure.
Three small implants are placed in the mouth's soft palate in the pillar procedure.

A person's soft palate relaxes while he sleeps. If the tissues relax too much, they can vibrate. This results in snoring. In extreme cases, the tissues may block the airway, causing the person to stop breathing or to breathe too shallowly.

Obstructive sleep apnea is more common in obese individuals.
Obstructive sleep apnea is more common in obese individuals.

The Pillar procedure addresses this issue by stiffening these tissues. It may not work for everyone, however. People who have severe obstructive sleep apnea may not be good candidates for this method. Additionally, the Pillar procedure may be ineffective for patients who are obese.

This procedure is generally performed on an outpatient basis, usually in a clinic. The surgeon will apply a topical anesthetic to the soft palate. This numbs the area. He will then inject a local anesthetic. Most patients should not experience pain over the course of the procedure, but may notice mild to moderate discomfort.

After the area is numb, the surgeon will insert three small, polyester rods into the soft palate. This typically takes 20 to 30 minutes. Patients will be monitored in case of any bleeding or major swelling. They can then drive themselves home.

Recovery from the Pillar procedure is typically minimal. Patients can expect to resume normal activities on the same day, as well as to eat normally. They will likely take anti-inflammatory medications to reduce swelling. An antibiotic may also be used to prevent infection. The doctor may also recommend an over-the-counter pain medication.

People will likely notice some results from the Pillar procedure the following day, or within that week. Snoring and problems from sleep apnea will generally decrease. Since the tissue of the soft palate needs time to harden around the implants, full results may not be noticeable for several months after the procedure.

Patients may notice minor side effects following a Pillar procedure. Sore throat and swelling are temporary. A metallic taste in the mouth and the sensation of a foreign body in the mouth should also be resolved within days. People who have a fever should contact their doctors, as they may have developed an infection.

Serious complications from this procedure are uncommon, since no tissue is removed. In some cases, an implant may partially protrude through the tissue. If this occurs, the implant will be taken out and replaced.

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