Obstructive sleep apnea affects around 20 million Americans and can lead to hypertension, heart attack, stroke, depression, muscle pain, fibromyalgia, morning headaches, and excessive daytime sleepiness.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Sleep Apenea Surgery: Soft Palate Surgery is rarely, if ever a first line treatment for sleep apnea.

There are only two first line treatments for Sleep Apnea, CPAP and Oral Appliances. CPAP is extremely effective but the majority of patients abandon CPAP use due to comfort issues. Oral Appliances are a first line treatment for mild to moderate sleep apnea and an alternative to CPAP for the 60% of patients who abandon CPAP and those who use CPAP but just want to experience a more comfortable alternative to CPAP.

Note: For the morbidly obese CPAP is still the best treatment, for younger thinner and healthier patients oral appliances are effective and easy to fit into busy lifestyles.

Surgery, especiall soft palate surgery used to be considered a first line of treatment for sleep apnea but dismal results and high morbidity have relegated soft palate surery to a secondary proceedure, at best.

There were several types of soft palate surgery but the grandfather of all was the UP3, UPPP surgery or Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty. This surgery was excruciatingly painful, had a high morbidity and was usually unsuccessful in treating sleep apnea. According to Wikipedia the risks of UP3 surgery include:

"One of the risks is that by cutting the tissues, excess scar tissue can "tighten" the airway and make it even smaller than it was before UPPP. Some individuals who have undergone UPPP experienced a worsening of their breathing following UPPP.
Others have spoken of severe acid reflux.
After surgery, complications may include these:
Sleepiness and sleep apnea related to post-surgery medication
Swelling, infection and bleeding
A sore throat and/or difficulty swallowing
Drainage of secretions into the nose and a nasal quality to the voice. English language speech does not seem to be affected by this surgery.
Narrowing of the airway in the nose and throat (hence constricting breathing) snoring and even iatrogenically caused sleep apnea.
Patients who have had the uvula removed will become unable to correctly speak French or any other language that has a uvular 'r' phoneme."

All surgeries to the soft palate carry risk and are painful. The LAUP procedure or Laser Assisted Uvuloplasty was less painful than up3 but still very painful. There was less chance of scarrig that dangerously narrowed the airway as seen with UP3.

Somnoplasty of the soft palate was less painful but equally ineffective in treating sleep apnea. Somnoplasty is a procedure to consider in patients with soft palate snoring and no sleep apnea. Other surgical alternatives are snoreplasty and pillars which again are useful for snoring but minimally helpful for treating sleep apnea.

Tracheotomy is the grandfather of surgeries and allows patients to breathe thru their throats. It is very successful but most patients do not want a long term tracheotomy.

The majority of sleep apnea is caused by the base of the tongue obstructing the airway or pressing on the epiglottis that blocks the airway.

There are several procedures that can be done to either advance the tongue or make it smaller. Somnoplasty on the base of the tongue is probably the preferred surgery for most patients contemplating reducing tongue size.

MaxilloMandibular Advancement is probably the most successful sleep apnea surgery but is extensive surgery carring definite risks. I strongly recommentd that patients undergoing this rocedure avoid ENT's and Plastic Surgeons and utilize Oral Surgeons with extensive experience in this type of surgery. The dental background of Oral surgeons make themthe first choice. They frequently do these surgeries for orthodontic purposes and understand stomatognathic function.


Nasal surgery is frequently helpful but rarely is a cure for apnea when done alone. Correction of deviated septums and turbinate reduction offer greater comfort for most patients with obstructed breathing due to anatomical or allergic problems.

Nasal surgery is usually and ENT procedure but is frequently one by oral surgeons as well.

Pediatric patients with sleep apnea are usually candidates for removal of tonsils and adenoids. While effective at opening the pharyngeal airway newer research suggests that orthodontic widening of the hard palate should be done either before or after T&A procedures. Widening prior to surgery may reduce post-operative complications.

Sleep apnea is probably responsible for at least 80% of the cases ADD and ADHD in children. The earlier the airway obstructions are addressed the healthier it is for future development.

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posted by Dr Shapira at 9:57 AM