Aug. 28 - German scientists claim a device originally designed to prevent sleep apnea can also ''cure'' snoring. The device, similar to a heart pacemaker, sends electrical signals to muscles in the tongue which, its inventors say, brings relief to an age-old problem. Joel Flynn reports.
It's been cited as the third most common cause of divorce, and has been linked with behavioural problems and even obesity. Snoring is a problem. Scientists in Germany think they've now cured it But they seem to have done so by accident. With what they call a Hypoglossal Nerve Stimulation System..a kind of pace-maker for the tongue.. Dr Thomas Penzel helped design it. SOUNDBITE: PROF. DR. THOMAS PENZEL, CHARITE UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL "It also cures snoring, but primarily it is dedicated for sleep apnea. When sleep apnea is cured, also snoring disappears so this is a very good side effect of this therapeutic device." The pacemaker is about the size of a packet of cigarettes. It can stay inside the body for about five years before the batteries have to be changed -- and they can't be recharged, meaning another operation. But for Heino Muellar, that's a price worth paying. SOUNDBITE: HOLGER HEINO MUELLER, TONGUE PACEMAKER PATIENT: "I don't get any sleep at night. I have to get up at least five to six times at night which of course leads to exhaustion during the day and it's difficult to concentrate. I finally want to get rid of that." As one of the the device's first recipients, Mueller says he doesn't mind feeling a bit like a guinea pig, as other test patients have reported positive results. The device works by ensuring the airways remain open during sleep. Apnea occurs when breathing is dysfunctional and the brain can't get enough oxygen. If the device gets approval from authorities in Germany and the U.S., snorers and their partners may get some relief for themselves and breathing space for their relationships.