shutterstock_238405498Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty, or UPPP, is a surgical procedure that treats sleep apnea by removing excess tissue in the throat and, as a result, widening the airway. This allows air to move through the throat more easily when patient’s breathe, effectively reducing the symptoms of snoring and sleep apnea.

Candidates For UPPP

UPPP is recommended for patients with the following conditions:

  • Excess tissue in the nose, mouth or throat that blocks the airways and causes breathing abnormalities
  • Those for whom lifestyle changes and conservative treatments have failed
  • Those who are unable to tolerate the CPAP, or Continuous Positive Airway Pressure treatment

In addition to widening the airway, UPPP also aims to improve the movement of the soft palate and help the airway remain open during sleep.

The UPPP Procedure

The UPPP procedure is performed in a hospital and requires general anesthesia and an overnight stay. During the UPPP procedure, tissue may be removed in order to expand the airway. Tissue may be removed from the following areas:

  • Uvula, or the finger-shaped tissue that hangs downward from the roof of the mouth into the throat
  • Soft palate, or the rear portion of the roof of the mouth
  • Throat
  • Tonsils or Adenoids

The amount of tissue removed will depend upon the location and severity of each patient’s individual condition. If an enlarged tongue is a factor in the patient’s sleep apnea, the doctor may also remove a small portion of the tongue, which is called a uvulopalatopharyngoglossoplasty.

The surgeon may use either a scalpel or newer laser methods such as LAUP, or Laser-Assisted Uvulopalatoplasty, in order to perform the UPPP. This laser technique is more precise, less invasive and also has a higher rate of success than UPPP.

UPPP usually requires 3 to 5 separate procedures, since only a small amount of tissue may be removed at a time.

Recovery usually takes about three weeks, during which time patients may experience difficulty swallowing. After the procedure, a sleep study may be required to determine if sleep apnea has improved.

Considerations And Risks Of UPPP

While this procedure is considered safe, it is not recommended as an initial treatment, and is used more as a last resort. Patients should consider non-surgical treatments before choosing surgery.

UPPP has been found to alleviate snoring in many patients who have had this surgery, but results with sleep apnea vary from patient to patient.

Like any other surgical procedure, there are certain risks associated with the UPPP procedure, that may include:

  • Swelling
  • Infection
  • Pain
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Bleeding
  • Speech problems, or change to a more nasal quality of speech
  • Changes in food taste

While the procedure may be successful, the patient may still require the use of CPAP treatment. The doctor will discuss these risks as well as address any concerns prior to the procedure.