If your doctor has told you that you have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), the most common type of sleep apnea, or you know you’re a heavy snorer, you might have heard of a treatment called uvulopalatopharyngoplasty, or UPPP.
How Does UPPP Treat Sleep Apnea?
Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP) is surgery that involves removing excess tissue in your throat to make your airway wider. That may allow more air to flow while you’re breathing. That can reduce or eliminate snoring and sleep apnea in some people.
Because every person’s airway is slightly different, your doctor will only take out the tissue that will help with your sleep apnea. UPPP surgery may involve removing:
- Some of your uvula. That’s the flap of soft tissue that hangs down in the back of your mouth.
- Part of your soft palate, which is the back of the roof of your mouth.
- Excess tissue in your throat, including your tonsils (which are on the sides of your throat) and your adenoids (which are at the top of the back of your throat).
If your tongue is enlarged, your doctor might recommend removing part of it. That’s a separate procedure called uvulopalatopharyngoglossoplasty. It’s often done at the same time as UPPP.
UPPP can be done using surgical equipment or with a laser (laser-assisted uvulopalatopharyngoplasty, or LAUP).
How Do You Prepare for UPPP?
Your doctor may ask you to stop taking blood thinners like aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, and clopidogrel a few days before your surgery. Tell your doctor if you get sick with a cold, flu, or fever. If that happens, you might have to delay the operation. On the day of the surgery, take any medicine your doctor told you to take. But you likely won’t be able to eat or drink anything for several hours.
During the Surgery
You’ll get anesthesia to have UPPP. Your risks are similar to that of any other surgery that involves anesthesia. During the operation, you might have reactions to medications you receive, or you may have trouble breathing. The surgical team will monitor you closely during the operation.
Recovery After UPPP
Recovery time is usually 2-4 weeks. But it depends on how much tissue was removed. You’ll spend the night in the hospital. And your throat will be sore after the operation, maybe for several weeks. You’ll be eating soft foods for a couple of weeks. For about a week, you’ll have to rinse your mouth with salt water after meals. Your doctor will do a follow-up with you 2-3 weeks after the operation.
You may also have bleeding, infection, or blood clots. Your doctor may give you medicine to treat that. It doesn’t happen often, but UPPP can sometimes damage the muscles in your throat or soft palate. That can cause liquid to go from your mouth area to your nose while you’re drinking. This side effect is often temporary. You might have changes in your voice, more mucus in your throat, or dryness in your mouth and airway. These issues are more likely with LAUP.
What to Consider Before Getting UPPP
UPPP doesn’t work for everyone. About half of the people with sleep apnea who get the surgery will see an improvement in symptoms. But for many people, those benefits wear off over time. The surgery may work best for those born with structural problems with their soft palates.
Your insurance may not cover UPPP. That’s why experts recommend only considering it if other sleep apnea treatments don’t work.