Uvulopalatoplasty is an outpatient surgical procedure done on a patient to reduce the size of the uvula, the flap of tissue at the back of the throat. During this procedure, some tissue of the soft palate on both sides of the uvula is also removed. The purpose is to open the airway and reduce the noise and sleeplessness that result from snoring. Uvulopalatoplasty may also be helpful in reducing the symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea, a condition in which the patient briefly stops breathing during sleep.
Snoring is a rattling noise in the air passages that begins when the patient falls asleep. It is caused by vibrations in the tissue of the throat and sinuses. Other individuals sleeping in the same room may be very disturbed by a person who snores.
Obstructive sleep apnea occurs in patients who have a narrow or partially blocked airway. They can stop breathing for short periods of time during sleep, and this can occur many times throughout the night. The patient often wakes up feeling exhausted and may experience periods of sleepiness during the day. Because the patient suffering from sleep apnea is not getting enough oxygen, other health problems such as high blood pressure and heart problems may develop.
Diagnosis of snoring is done by taking a patient history and asking family members for details about sleep patterns of the patient. Obstructive sleep apnea may be diagnosed after the patient goes through a period of sleep monitoring. The patient may need to wear an electronic device to monitor sleep patterns. Examination by an ear, nose, and throat specialist, known as an otolaryngologist, would reveal whether the patient has any narrowing of the airways.
The uvulopalatoplasty procedure is done to enlarge the airway of the patient and to improve breathing. Parts of the palate and throat are first numbed with a local anesthetic. A laser is then used to cut away layers of the uvula and the soft palate. Patients normally will be awake during the procedure and able to return to normal activities shortly afterward. Uvulopalatoplasty usually takes up to five sessions to complete.
Between sessions, the patient may experience the pain of a sore throat. The surgeon will most likely prescribe antibiotics and pain medication that should be taken after the procedure. Patients should watch for any complications such as infection or bleeding. They should also see an improvement in sleep patterns and a reduction in feelings of fatigue after a night of sleep.