Surgery for Sleep Apnea

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  • Be aware that not all sleep apnea patients are advised to have surgery, as there are safer, natural ways to ease this condition
  • Before undergoing any surgical procedure, talk to your doctor about your condition and discuss whether you would merit a surgery
  • If there really is no other option but to have surgery, make sure to regularly follow up with your doctor or your sleep physician afterward

Surgical procedures may be recommended for sleep apnea patients, but note that these procedures are highly invasive and must be done only as a last resort, when natural treatments have failed to deliver any positive effect.

Sleep Apnea Surgeries Done on the Soft Palate

Sleep apnea surgery can be a multi-step process involving more than one procedure, and these procedures often target specific body parts. For example, the following procedures are done on a patient’s soft palate:

Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP): A uvulopalatopharyngoplasty or a UPPP targets the back of the roof of your mouth. During a UPPP, excess tissue is removed and repositioned to widen the airway. The surgeon can trim down the soft palate and uvula, remove the tonsils and reposition some of the muscles of the soft palate.

UPPP, along with other soft palate procedures, is the most common type of surgery for sleep apnea patients. However, a UPPP procedure alone is unlikely to cure moderate to severe sleep apnea, and may be combined with surgeries that target other areas in the upper airway.

Radiofrequency Volumetric Tissue Reduction (RFVTR): This is an option for patients with mild to moderate sleep apnea. A radiofrequency volumetric tissue reduction or RFVTR involves using controlled cauterization to shrink and tighten the tissues in and around the throat. A RFVTR can be applied to the soft palate, tonsils and tongue.

Surgical Procedures for the Nose

Patients with sleep apnea may be recommended to undergo septoplasty and turbinate reductions to aid in opening the nasal passage and help with improving air flow. A septoplasty aims to straighten a bent or deviated nasal septum, which is the divider separating the two sides of the nose.

On the other hand, a turbinate reduction seeks to reduce or remove the curved structures sticking out from the side of the nose. These can be enlarged for various reasons, such as allergies.

Sleep Apnea Surgeries for the Mouth

Sleep apnea surgery may involve parts of the mouth like the tongue, hyoid bone and jaws, respectively:

  • Genioglossus Advancement: This is performed because the tongue can fall back to block the space allotted for breathing in the throat during sleep. A genioglossus advancement involves moving the major tongue attachment forward, allowing space to open for breathing behind the tongue. The surgeon makes a cut in the lower jaw where the tongue attaches. Afterward, this piece of bone (not the entire jaw) is moved forward.
  • Hyoid Suspension: The hyoid is a U-shaped bone in the neck where the tongue and other structures of the throat like the epiglottis are attached to. If a patient undergoes a hyoid suspension, this will involve enlarging the space for breathing in the lower part of the throat by pulling the hyoid bone forward and securing it in place.
  • Maxillomandibular Osteotomy (MMO) and Advancement (MMA): This is recommended to address severe sleep apnea, and requires moving the upper and/or lower jaw forward to enlarge the space for breathing in the entire throat. During an MMO and MMA, the bone of your jaws is cut, and this is expected to heal over the course of a few months. However, the jaws may be wired shut for a few days, and a patient’s diet may be limited for several weeks after the procedure.

Again, be aware that not all sleep apnea patients are advised to have surgery, as there are safer, natural ways to ease this condition. Before undergoing any surgical procedure, talk to your doctor about your condition and discuss whether you would merit a surgery. If there really is no other option but to have surgery, make sure to regularly follow up with your doctor or your sleep physician afterward.1

MORE ABOUT SLEEP APNEA

Sleep Apnea: An Introduction

What Is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep Apnea Symptoms

Sleep Apnea Causes

Types of Sleep Apnea

Sleep Apnea Treatment

Sleep Apnea Testing

Sleep Apnea Surgery

Sleep Apnea Prevention

Sleep Apnea FAQ



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