Have you ever dreamed you were competing in a spelling bee back in school? Everybody but you and one other person is out of the competition. And then… the judges give you your word: uvulopalatopharyngoplasty. And suddenly, it doesn’t matter how much you’ve practiced. That is one difficult word to spell (even for an amazing, non-dreaming speller).
Funny enough, uvulopalatopharyngoplasty is not a fake word. It’s an actual word. Turns out, uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (called UPPP for short, mercifully) is a medical procedure designed to help manage obstructive sleep apnea.
Usually, this surgical procedure is utilized when other, more conservative approaches haven’t really helped or yielded the desired effects. For those individuals, UPPP can supply a viable way to diminish your obstructive sleep apnea symptoms and help you get a restful night’s rest.
What is Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty?
There are a large number of causes for sleep apnea. But often, your own body’s tissue is the trigger. These tissues can obstruct your airways when they begin to loosen up and sag. As a result of this blockage, you start snoring, and you stop breathing. Because of this, sleep apnea can disrupt your regular sleep cycle.
Sleep apnea can make you feel awful because you don’t sleep deeply through the night, leaving you tired all day. Sleep apnea has even been known to cause death on occasion (and respiratory disorders should be taken seriously).
A significant amount of tissue will be removed from your throat by your surgeon during a UPPP procedure. When this excess tissue is removed, the obstruction should be cleared. For a certain group of sleep apnea patients this surgery, which was developed in 1981, has become an ever more effective type of treatment.
How do you know if UPPP is right for you?
Not every type of breathing disorder requires UPPP. UPPP is only appropriate for a specific type of sleep apnea, in fact. Further, only people who have Stage 1 obstructive sleep apnea will likely be helped by this surgery.
We might want to make certain that you’ve explored all other treatment solutions. You’re a candidate for UPPP if:
- Your sleep apnea is triggered at least partly by structural issues around your airways, especially when it comes to your soft palate and your tonsils.
- You have tried other treatments but found they do not alleviate your symptoms. You might first try other treatments like a CPAP machine.
- The desired result has not been achieved by reducing your BMI or losing weight.
- Stage one sleep apnea has been diagnosed by your physician. This procedure isn’t right for individuals with stage two or three sleep apnea.
- You are dealing with obstructive sleep apnea, and this sleep apnea has a negative affect on your overall quality of life.
It’s essential for anyone who has a sleep-associated disorder to get the right treatment. We will be able to give you a diagnosis after evaluating your symptoms. Then, you’ll be able to discuss and create a treatment plan that’s distinct to you.
What is a UPPP procedure like?
UPPP is a surgical procedure, typically carried out under general anesthesia. Before the surgery begins, your surgeon will figure out which areas of your airway are causing the biggest obstructions. Why you have so much extra tissue in your throat is something we will have to figure out. Every individual is a little bit different in this regard.
Here are some areas that your surgeon will remove some tissue from during your UPPP surgery:
- Your tongue may also need to have some tissue eliminated. It’s actually a separate procedure, when you have tissue removed from your tongue, called uvulopalatopharyngoglossoplasty (which is also quite the tongue twister, uh, no pun intended). Your surgeon will let you know well in advance, whether you’re a candidate for this procedure.
- The soft palate which makes up the roof of your mouth near the back of your mouth.
- The uvula, that mass of tissue that hangs down from the roof of your mouth.
- Around the throat, any extra tissue. This might include your tonsils and adenoids if you still have them.
Once the tissue is extracted, your surgeon will seal the incisions with sutures. Occasionally, you may need an overnight stay in a hospital but in most cases, your UPPP surgery will be done on an outpatient basis. There are lots of variables here, so it will depend on your surgeon, your health, and your local healthcare setting. Your surgeon will want to be certain you can swallow normally before you go home.
How do you prepare for your UPPP procedure?
When you’re preparing for your UPPP surgery, you will have to take several steps, just like you would with any surgical procedure. You won’t have any surprises because you and your surgeon will talk about everything well in advance.
Your pre-operative instructions could include:
- A complete list of recommended medicines and medications you should steer clear of will be supplied by your doctor.
- You will also need someone to drive you home after the operation, especially if you are undergoing your UPPP surgery on an outpatient basis.
- You may be asked to take certain medications on the day of your procedure.
- There may be a short period before surgery that you need to fast.
- You will be informed to alert your surgeon about any sicknesses you may have, including a cold. Your surgery might have to be rescheduled if you have any illnesses.
- Some over-the-counter medications, especially painkillers like aspirin and ibuprofen, will thin your blood and should not be used before surgery unless recommended by your surgeon.
Your doctor will provide you with all of this information well before your surgical date, but be certain to ask any and all questions you may have along the way.
Recovery and post-operative care
The length of your recovery from UPPP surgery will differ, depending on the amount of tissue removed by your surgeon. In general, however, you can count on at least 2-4 weeks of recovery time.
You should try not to be too idle, but you should also abstain from overly strenuous activity for a couple of weeks. In other words, you need to keep moving and walking about, as this will help prevent blood clots from forming.
For the first 1-3 weeks, most patients will:
- Experience a sore throat. For a number of weeks after surgery, this sore throat could linger.
- Avoid infection by utilizing a salt-water-based mouthwash.
- Be limited to soft foods. Immediately after your surgery, you will be limited to clear liquids, but when you feel ready you’ll be able to move on to soft foods. You’ll most likely stay with soft foods until we give you the thumbs up to move ahead.
If you have any questions about your recovery and what to expect during the healing process, make certain to ask us. In about 2-3 weeks, you will have a follow-up appointment to evaluate your healing and determine what you can expect from your sleep apnea moving forward.
Complications from UPPP
As with any type of surgery, there are risks and complications that can be associated with UPPP. Most complications are fairly uncommon but some are more prevalent than others. Here are a few possible complications:
- Swelling or bleeding where the tissue was removed.
- Blood clots.
- Scar tissue: Once your surgery is done, scar tissue can build up around the surgical incision sites. In some cases, this scar tissue can cause your throat to feel closed in or inflamed, or like something’s stuck in your throat. Although this complication isn’t common, when it does occur, it could require additional surgery to entirely clear.
- Changes in your voice: Your voice might sound different after your procedure. If you’ve had tissue from your uvula removed, you may have difficulty making what are known as uvular consonants, which are especially common in Dutch, French, Hebrew, Swedish, and other languages. (These are the consonants with the dots or lines across the tops of them.)
- Liquid may go up your nose when you drink: This is caused by a complication known as velopharyngeal insufficiency. And it essentially means that the soft palate and throat are not coordinating enough when you swallow. This side effect is normally temporary when it occurs.
Your surgeon will be capable of helping you understand all of the risks, so use that resource. Making certain you’re well-informed and answering all of your questions is an important step that your surgeon will take.
Is UPPP effective?
So here’s the final question, is UPPP surgery effective? And what can people expect when the procedure is complete? The answer is that for the vast majority of well-qualified patients, UPPP does give significant and lasting relief from obstructive sleep apnea symptoms.
Once again, this procedure isn’t for everybody. Less qualified people might still get positive outcomes but they normally won’t last as long.
Here are some things you may experience after your procedure:
- An improved ability to focus throughout the day.
- More restful sleep.
- Fewer headaches.
- More energy.
- Less snoring.
For some individuals, UPPP will entirely eliminate your need to use a CPAP machine. But a CPAP machine might still need some use for some people. Your symptoms will continue to be monitored after your surgery.
Is UPPP my only option?
Sleep apnea can certainly be treated in other ways besides surgery. For some individuals, it may be a good choice, especially if other therapies have not yielded the desired results or relief from symptoms. In most circumstances, the choice of whether to pursue UPPP is up to the patient and the provider, and it definitely takes into consideration the comfort level of the patient.
Having said that, it’s significant to remember that UPPP is only practical in a very specific group of patients for a very specific set of symptoms.
Getting better sleep
Obstructive sleep apnea can interfere with your sleep cycle, making it more difficult to get a good night’s sleep even when you’ve been asleep for over 8 or 9 hours. For individuals with specific types of sleep apnea, uvulopalatopharyngoplasty can give a significant and effective treatment.
If you think you have sleep apnea, or you’re having trouble getting a good night’s sleep, it’s a good plan to contact us as soon as possible. Treating sleep apnea, in some circumstances, can be fairly simple. In other situations, surgical intervention can provide relief.
The goal is to help you get a good night’s sleep, whether you’re dreaming about spelling bees or not.
Contact us today if you think you may have sleep apnea, we’re here to help!