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What is Sleep Apnea Surgery Like?

By K T Solis
Updated May 17, 2024
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Sleep apnea is a serious disorder that causes a person to temporarily stop breathing during sleep. Typically, the person stops breathing for several seconds. Some people may even stop breathing for several minutes. When a person is diagnosed with this disorder, doctors may recommend surgery if other treatments are unsuccessful. Although various surgeries can be performed on the patient, the most common sleep apnea surgery is called uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP).

UPPP is a surgery to remove the uvula, a soft piece of tissue at the back of the throat. This procedure may also remove sections of throat tissue and the soft palate. The goal of this surgery is to make the airway larger, allowing for easier breathing.

UPPP is not the only type of sleep apnea surgery performed on patients. Other kinds of surgeries are used according to the needs of the person with sleep apnea. For example, some patients may be candidates for a pillar palatal implant. This particular surgery is designed to decrease snoring.

During the procedure, the surgeon places three small pieces of string into the patient's soft palate. This implant helps to decrease the movement and vibration of the soft palate. Doctors may recommend this type of sleep apnea surgery for those with mild or moderate forms of sleep apnea.

In emergency situations, the doctor may perform a tracheostomy. This involves making a hole in the patient's windpipe. The doctor then places a tube inside the hole so that the patient can breathe. This aggressive treatment is used only if the patient's life is at risk. It also can lead to further health problems.

Other surgeries may be performed to correct facial structure that interferes with proper breathing. Such surgeries may involve moving the jawbone or chin forward to permit the patient to breathe more normally. Bariatric surgery may help obese patients with sleep apnea as well. This type of surgery reduces a patient's weight and can often cure sleep apnea. Children and teenagers sometimes have their sleep apnea cured when their tonsils or adenoids are removed.

Before undergoing sleep apnea surgery, patients should participate in a sleep study. This involves spending the night in a sleep clinic so a sleep lab technician can monitor the patient's brain activity, heart rate, and other important information. If a patient is diagnosed with sleep apnea, the doctor may treat the patient with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). This is a type of machine that keeps airway tissues from collapsing when a person inhales. If the CPAP proves to be ineffective, the doctor may then suggest some form of sleep apnea surgery.

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