Ottawa Surgical Sleep Apnea Clinic

What are the surgical treatment options for obstructive sleep apnea?

Treatment Options

The gold standard for managing obstructive sleep apnea is CPAP. However, many people cannot tolerate CPAP. For those patients, there are many surgical options available to treat obstructive sleep apnea. The type of surgery that is chosen is dependent upon an individual's specific anatomy and severity of sleep apnea.

Surgery should be considered only after all the risks, benefits, and alternatives to surgery are understood. Our clinic will not consider surgery unless the patient has completed a trial of CPAP.

Any surgical treatment for sleep apnea must address the anatomic problem areas. There may be one or several areas that compromise airflow and cause apnea. Surgical treatments can address the nose, palate, tongue, jaw, neck, obesity, or several of these areas at the same time. Each surgery's success rate is determined by whether or not a specific airway collapse or obstruction is prevented. Therefore, the ideal surgery is different for each patient and depends on each patient's specific problem. Surgical options may include:

Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP). During this procedure, your doctor removes tissue from the rear of your mouth and top of your throat. Your tonsils and adenoids usually are removed as well. This type of surgery may be successful in stopping throat structures from vibrating and causing snoring. However, it may be less successful in treating sleep apnea because tissue farther down your throat may still block your air passage. UPPP usually is performed in a hospital and requires a general anesthetic.

Maxillomandibular advancement. In this procedure, your jaw is moved forward from the remainder of your face bones. This enlarges the space behind the tongue and soft palate, making obstruction less likely. This procedure may require the cooperation of an oral surgeon and an orthodontist, and at times may be combined with another procedure to improve the likelihood of success.

Tracheostomy. You may need this form of surgery if other treatments have failed and you have severe, life-threatening sleep apnea. In this procedure, your surgeon makes an opening in your neck and inserts a metal or plastic tube through which you breathe. You keep the opening covered during the day. But at night you uncover it to allow air to pass in and out of your lungs, bypassing the blocked air passage in your throat.

Removing tissues in the back of your throat with a laser (laser-assisted uvulopalatoplasty) or with radiofrequency energy (radiofrequency ablation) are procedures that doctors sometimes use to treat snoring. Although sometimes these procedures are combined with others, they aren't usually recommended as sole treatments for obstructive sleep apnea.