SALEM, Va. – Dr. Brian Gross was born at LewisGale Hospital in Salem. Now, he works there as an ear, nose and throat physician.
He’s the first doctor in Southwest Virginia to perform a safe and effective alternative treatment for a common condition: obstructive sleep apnea.
“There’s something like 22 million people in the U.S. alone that have obstructive sleep apnea,” said Gross.
Sleep apnea is a dangerous condition when a person’s airway becomes blocked repeatedly during sleep.
“Sleep apnea is an incredibly dangerous condition. It’s kind of like hypertension. It’s a silent killer,” said Gross. “A lot of times people aren’t going to get immediate complications. It definitely has an immediate effect on quality of life in that people can be really tired throughout the day, there’s a higher risk of car accidents, falling asleep at the wheel, work productivity can go down. Those are the more immediate things. Long-term, especially people that have severe sleep apnea, there is a direct correlation with heart attack, stroke and even death.”
Typically, patients use a CPAP machine that forces oxygenated air into their airways as they sleep, allowing them to breathe.
The problem is that only about 50% of people diagnosed can tolerate wearing one.
“It’s uncomfortable. It’s a lot of pressure. It makes noise,” said Gross.
That’s where the Inspire Upper Airway Stimulation system can help. Similar to a pacemaker, a sensor is placed in your chest connected to a stimulator placed on a nerve in your neck. When it’s turned on, it sends a tiny shock to your tongue and throat every time you breathe in, forcing your airways open.
Gross said it’s a minimally-invasive outpatient procedure.
“It’s minimal pain and side effects. And honestly, it’s one of the only treatments outside of CPAP that is highly effective,” said Gross.
More importantly, he said it can be life-changing.
“It’s fantastic that you can move from a machine that you have to lug around everywhere, you have to remember to take, if you go on vacation you have to remember,” said Gross, “To where, with this device - with the hypoglossal nerve stimulator - it is implanted. It goes with you everywhere. And really you just turn it on and it works.”