A year ago, operations manager Vishal Raut, 35, had the base of his tongue and his tonsils reduced using a laser, in a procedure known as an uvulopalatoplasty. It was done to cure his obstructive sleep apnea, or heavy snoring.
"The way I used to snore, it was like I was choking, or like I couldn't breathe," says Raut, who travels regularly for work and would avoid sleeping on long-distance train journeys because of the embarrassment caused by his condition. "If I was asleep, then nobody near me could get any sleep.
Vikas Raut, 33, an operations manager from Mumbai, got laser surgery last year to treat his heavy snoring.(Satish Bate/HT photo)
Sometimes I would wake up and people would be staring or laughing at me." Raut is among a growing number of patients opting for surgical procedures or extreme treatments for conditions that are not so much health emergencies as sources of embarrassment.
"Having medical information available online plays a key role in encouraging patients to seek help for such conditions," says Dr Sanjiv Badhwar, who operated on Raut and is a sleep disorder specialist at Mumbai's Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital. "Patients do an online search, weigh their options and walk in, rather than waiting to be sent in by a general practitioner."
In addition to snoring, urban Indians are seeking medical intervention to treat excessive sweating, halitosis, white patches and even loss of pigmentation.
Dr Satish Bhatia, a dermatological surgeon at the Indian Cancer Society, says he has seen a 20% increase in the demand for botox injections to reduce sweating, over the past two years.
"I see several teenagers, youngsters about to start college, who want help with this," he says. "At least in part, it's because social media platforms have made young people more self-conscious."
In Delhi, Dr Mukesh Girdhar, state president of the Indian Association of Dermatologists, Venereologists and Leprologists, says he is seeing a growing number of people approach him for skin grafts, particularly for conditions such as vitiligo, in which the skin loses pigmentation and develops white patches.
"Skin grafting provides a 70% to 80% chance of recovery," he says.
Another factor driving the demand for elective surgeries is the growing disposable income levels in urban India. The cost of such procedures typically ranges from Rs 10,000 to Rs 1 lakh - a sum that a growing number of people is comfortable paying in exchange for feeling less self-consciousness about an aspect of their appearance.
Pallavi Rave, 56, a homemaker from Mumbai, recently underwent surgery to shorten a misshapen toe on her right foot. (Pratham Gokhale/HT photo)
Mumbai homemaker Pallavi Rave, 56, for instance, recently went under the knife to have an abnormally long toe shortened. "It was sticking out, literally like a sore thumb. My right foot looked disproportionate and ugly," she says.
Dr Pradeep Moonot, the orthopaedic surgeon who operated on Rave at Breach Candy hospital, says he sees three to five patients with such aesthetic concerns each month, the majority of them women.
"Many women want to wear open shoes and don't like how their feet look," he says.
Dr Badhwar, meanwhile, has seen the number of snorers coming to him for surgical remedies increase three-fold over the past four years. He now consults with about 60 such patients a month.
While patients are usually pleased with the outcomes of their surgeries - Raut says he now feels more confident, and Rave no longer cringes when she looks at her right foot - doctors do caution against overdoing it.
Dr Rajesh Chawla, a senior consultant at the department of respiratory and sleep medicine at New Delhi's Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, for instance, does not recommend surgery as a first line of treatment because not every snorer is an ideal candidate - and there are less invasive alternatives that ought to be tried first.
In addition to paying for something that may not work, there are the risks of infections, allergic reactions and possible side-effects such as muscle stiffness.
"Every surgery has potential for complications," says orthopaedic surgeon Dr Moonot. "People must be careful to understand the risks, and weigh those against the need to have the surgery. A minor deformity might not always be worth it."