Diode laser provides sweet relief for snorers

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Snorers may finally be able to breathe a sigh of relief as a new diode laser eases soft tissue surgery to remove part of the palate and uvula. The laser beam can be more easily directed than alternatives and has the perfect wavelength for cutting body tissue.

Carbon dioxide lasers have typically been used for this application. However, surgery using these lasers is typically very uncomfortable, as the laser light cannot be directed using a waveguide. Instead, a mechanical arm is needed to direct the beam in the mouth.

The new diode laser, however, uses a very thin fibre to guide the beam to the correct part of the patient's mouth, providing a much more convenient method for both the surgeon and the patient. The laser was developed by researchers at the Fraunhofer Institutes for Laser Technology (ILT) in Germany, and is just a third of the price of the gas alternatives.

Possibly the biggest advantage of this laser is its wavelength of only 2μm. ‘Light at this wavelength is readily absorbed by biological tissue, and the laser beam doesn’t penetrate far,’ said ILT project manager Dr Konstantin Boucke.

In addition, the beam can be switched to a second operating mode at 800nm – the ideal wavelength to cauterise wounds and stop bleeding. These properties make it ideal for other kinds of soft tissue surgery, including prostate resection.

To provide the necessary wavelengths, gallium antimonide was used – an unusual substance for this kind of laser. It is thought the laser could also find applications in processing transparent plastic. The laser will be formally unveiled at Laser 2007.