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Surgical Treatment for Snoring and Sleep Apnea

The goal of most surgeries for breathing problems is to widen the airway. This is done by taking out or shrinking excess tissue where the mouth meets the throat. Nasal and jaw surgery can help correct nose or jaw problems that contribute to snoring and apnea. This sheet describes procedures that may be recommended for you.

UPPP (Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty)

Illustration showing that tonsils are removed and the uvula and soft palate are trimmed during UPPP.
UPPP trims the uvula and removes other tissue from the back of the mouth.

This is the most common surgical procedure for sleep apnea. It trims the soft palate and uvula, and removes the tonsils and other tissue. It is major surgery performed in a hospital. Most patients go home within 24 hours.

Risks and Complications of UPPP

Complications are uncommon with this procedure, but can include:

  • Bleeding

  • Throat pain

  • Scarring

  • Nasal-sounding speech

  • False feeling that something is in throat

  • Liquids sometimes going into nose when swallowing

LAUP (Laser-Assisted Uvulopalatoplasty)

This procedure helps relieve snoring. It may also be used in some cases of mild apnea. The doctor uses a laser or electric current to remove some of the soft palate and part or all of the uvula. This treatment may be done over several sessions in the doctor’s office.

Risks and Complications of LAUP

The risks and complications are the same as for UPPP, but even less likely to occur.

RFA (Radiofrequency Ablation)

This procedure helps relieve snoring. The doctor uses radio waves to reduce the size of the turbinates or uvula, nearby tissue, and sometimes the back of the tongue.

Risks and Complications of RFA

  • Mouth ulcer

  • Nerve pain

  • Swelling in airway

  • Pocket of pus (abscess) on tongue

Nasal Surgery

Nasal surgery to remove polyps to improve airflow.

Problems in the nose can make snoring or sleep apnea worse. They can also make CPAP (a common treatment for snoring and sleep apnea) harder to use. If blockages in your nose are severe, surgery can improve the airflow. It can reduce the size of the turbinates, straighten a deviated septum, and remove any polyps (overgrowths of sinus lining).

Risks and Complications of Nasal Surgery

  • Bruising

  • Bleeding

  • Damage to or perforation of septum

  • Dryness in nose

Jaw Surgery

Jaw surgery involves moving the jaw forward to widen the airway.

If your jaw sits too far back, your tongue may also be too far back. That makes the tongue more likely to block the airway when you sleep. Moving the jaw forward moves the tongue forward and widens the airway overall.

Risks and Complications of Jaw Surgery

In some cases, the jaw does not heal in the desired position. Your doctor can tell you more about this. Other possible complications include:

  • Loss of teeth or need for orthodontic treatment to realign teeth.

  • Loss of feeling in jaw or teeth.

  • Change in facial appearance.

More Severe Cases

If your apnea is severe and no other treatment helps, other kinds of surgery may help. Your doctor can tell you about them. Be sure you understand their risks as well as their benefits.

Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Online Medical Reviewer: Nelson, Gail A., MS, APRN, BC
Date Last Reviewed: 12/20/2013
© 2000-2014 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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