What Is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea occurs when the muscles in your mouth, tongue and throat relax, collapsing and blocking the upper airway. This causes you to stop breathing repeatedly throughout the night, leading to a drop in your blood oxygen levels. It can cause serious health problems, including high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
An estimated 70 million Americans suffer from sleep disorders. Many try a variety of snoring treatments, without luck. For those individuals who can’t use or don’t benefit from continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), the pillar procedure may be a viable alternative.
Surgical Options to treat Sleep Apnea
Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP) is a surgical procedure to remove excess tissue in the throat in order to widen the airway, making it easier to breathe. It’s designed to treat obstructive sleep apnea, a sleeping disorder that can cause serious health problems over time.
UPPP involves removal of tissues that may include the uvula, soft palate, tonsils, adenoids and pharynx. In some instances, a small portion of the tongue may be removed as well.
If you suffer from snoring and sleep apnea due to excess tissue in the throat or mouth that causes blockages of the upper airway, are unable (or unwilling) to use continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) – the preferred method for treating sleep apnea – or do not respond to CPAP treatment, you may be a candidate for UPPP.
During the procedure, the patient is given general anesthesia. The surgeon will remove the tonsils and adenoids (if applicable), excise the uvula and trim or remove the soft palate. The cuts are sutured together with stitches. A brief hospital stay may be recommended so the patient can be closely monitored immediately after surgery.
Complications may include sore throat, swelling, infection, bleeding, difficulty swallowing, speech problems or changes to the voice, sleepiness or apnea due to medications you’ll be given to promote healing, changes in the way food tastes and narrowing of the airway related to scar tissue.
As with other sleep disorder surgeries, UPPP is not a viable solution for everybody. It offers mixed results; some people report a drastic reduction in episodes of snoring and apnea, while others still require additional treatment (e.g. CPAP) afterwards. Your doctor can discuss the risks, and help you to decide whether UPPP is right for you.