Surgical Help for Sleep Apnea

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This content was created by the National Sleep Foundation

Excessive snoring isn’t just frustrating for those who have to listen to it—it could also be a health risk for the snorer. Noisy breathing and frequent gasp-like interruptions throughout the night can be a sign of obstructive sleep apnea, a disorder that, if left untreated, can up the odds of heart trouble, diabetes, and more.

The first line of treatment for sleep apnea includes lifestyle changes such as losing weight, changing your sleeping position, and using a breathing device that opens up airways to reduce snoring. If these fixes don’t work, a surgical option may help. That’s because the alignment of bones and tissue in the mouth and throat is sometimes to blame for the airway blockages that lead to loud snoring.

There are many different types of surgeries offered to treat obstructive sleep apnea -- uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP),nasal surgeries, and maxillomandibular surgery are the most common.

Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty:

This mouthful of a word, also known as UPPP, is the most commonly performed surgery for sleep apnea and involves trimming or adjusting the soft palate that sits at the back roof of the mouth to increase the width of the airway. Some people may also have their tonsils and uvula (the fleshy extension that hangs in the back of the throat) removed. While a sore throat is common in the first couple of weeks after surgery, anti-inflammatory pain medications can help ease the discomfort and most people are back at work after just one week.

Nasal Surgeries: 

When bent, the septum—or piece of bone in the nose that separates the nostrils—can block the flow of air and play a role in sleep apnea. Straightening the septum with septoplasy surgery may help cut back on snoring by improving your breathing throughout the night (as well as during the day). Turbinate reduction is another type of surgery in which doctors, typically otolaryngologists (ear, nose, throat doctor), trim the size of the curved pieces of bone inside of the nasal passages to allow for greater airflow.

Maxillomandibular surgery is known to be the most effective surgical option for treating obstructive sleep apnea. This procedure is also the most invasive, involving the fracturing and resetting of jawbones. During the surgery, doctors move the upper and lower jaws forward to enlarge the throat’s airway and reduce the chance that breathing will be obstructed. Because of the traumatic nature of this surgery, patients are required to stay overnight in the hospital, and some may also need to have their jaw wired shut for a few weeks to ensure healthy healing.

Doctors will typically recommend that snorers looking to put an end to nighttime disruptions try lifestyle changes first. If you’ve tried these options with no success, though, talk with your doctor about surgical interventions that could give you back a peaceful night’s sleep.