Sleep Apnea Surgery – Treating Severe Cases of Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea can be a very serious illness, and the most severe cases are potentially life-threatening. Although there are a wide range of treatments available, very serious cases may require sleep apnea surgery, if other options have been exhausted or are not viable. There are a wide range of surgical procedures available, depending on the particular case.

A major problem for individuals with sleep apnea is that it can lead to other illnesses, complications and health problems. Individuals suffering from sleep apnea should seek medical advice at the earliest stage possible. Surgery under general anaesthetic may even be a problem for someone who has sleep apnea, in the event that the breathing cycle is disturbed whilst surgery is being performed.

What types of Sleep Apnea Surgery are available?

Below are some of the surgical procedures that may be used to help relieve a person of sleep apnea.

  • Somnoplasty – Somnoplasty is a relatively new surgical procedure, and is used to treat a number of conditions including chronic snoring and chronic nasal congestion. When somnoplasty is used as a sleep apnea surgery, it may require more than one treatment. It involves the shrinking of the soft tissues round the airway through the use of radio frequency heat.
    This is the least invasive of the surgical treatments available, and is usually preformed under local anaesthesia. Although surgery is a last resort and normally used to treat the most severe cases, it may not be an option if the individual has a particularly serious case of sleep apnea.
  • Nasal surgery may be used as a type of sleep apnea surgery to correct obstruction in the nasal passages. A deviated septum, overgrowth of the turbinate tissue (bone shelf which protrudes into the nose’s breathing passage) or a narrow nasal valve may all lead to sleep apnea. This type of nasal surgery should make breathing through the nasal passages easier.
  • Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP) – Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty is another surgical method which is used to treat obstructive sleep apnea. It is usually used in severe cases, and is quite a commonly used type of sleep apnea surgery. If a CPAP machine was not or could not be used, or was ineffective, UPPP may be recommended. This involves removing the soft tissue in the throat which can cause blockages and narrowing of the airway.
    The uvula is the soft tissue that hangs down at the back of the throat, and UPPP surgery usually removes some or all of the uvula. Tonsils and adenoids are usually removed if they are present. UPPP is meant to widen the airway and prevent some of the muscular action which leads to the closing or narrowing of the airway. There are a number of potential negative side-effects associated with UPPP, including infection, reduced sense of smell, mucus build-up in the throat and changes to voice frequency. As with most surgical procedures, UPPP is not effective in every case.
  • Maxillomandibular advancement (MMA) – This is used to treat a number of conditions including facial deformity and receding chins. It works by moving the upper and lower jaw forward, which helps the airway to remain open during sleep. It’s quite a long and complex operation which can last for a few hours.
    An individual who has had Maxillomandibular advancement surgery will usually take at least a month to recover. The side effects include pain in the jaw, (usually small) changes in facial appearance, and a temporary numbness in the lower lip. It is usually recommended that chewing is avoided for a month.
  • Tracheostomy – This is where an opening is made in the front of the windpipe/trachea, it is held open by a tracheostomy tube. There are a number of complications associated with a tracheostomy, as it is such a serious surgical procedure. Complications include bleeding, pneumonia and infection.

There are other less common types of sleep apnea surgery available, dependent on the specific case. The procedures outlined above are the ones most frequently used to treat sleep apnea.