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sleep apnea

Sleep Apnea Surgery Procedures and the ENT Specialist/Doctor

Sleep apnea is a common disorder where you have at least one pause in breathing or have shallow breathing as you sleep. These pauses can last anywhere from a few seconds to minutes. They happen as many as 30 times or more each hour, reports the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Its estimated that over 12 million Americans of all ages suffer from apnea, according to the University of Washington in Seattle.

The condition tends to be chronic and is disrupts your sleep. This is because when your breathing problems occur, you often move out of deep sleep into a lighter sleep phase. Sleep apnea can make you feel extremely tired during the day due to poor sleep and is one of the leading causes of daytime sleepiness.

In this article, we look at some of the surgery for sleep apnea procedures available to treat the condition, including Pillar, SOMNOFIX, UPPP and somnoplasty. Surgery isn’t always the only or best route to treat sleep apnea. However, if you’re screened appropriately by a sleep physician in collaboration with an ENT specialist, it can be a good alternative to CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure therapy).

The more severe your sleep apnea condition, the less likely that each of the following procedures will be your sole treatment option. But, these surgical procedures can be used in conjunction with other therapies to decrease the CPAP pressure and the necessity of a full face CPAP mask.

Pillar Procedure for Snoring

The pillar procedure is a minor surgery that works best for treating mild to moderate cases of obstructive sleep apnea as well as habitual snoring. Both of these conditions sometimes establish themselves due to the muscles relaxing at the back of your throat.

During the pillar procedure, small 18 mm by 1.5 mm polyester rods are placed within your soft palate. As the tissues in the area heal, your soft palate stiffens. This subsequently reduces vibration and relaxation of the tissue.

This procedure can be carried out in around 20 minutes under local anesthesia at your doctors office.


The Somnofix procedure was developed by a highly experienced team of doctors working in the sleep apnea and snoring field. The program provides you with the latest and most up-to-date treatment available.


Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP) is the name for a procedure that removes excess tissue in your throat, thus, widening your airway. If you have an enlarged tongue and its a factor in your sleep apnea, part of this might be removed through UPPP. This procedure requires a hospital stay.

As the procedure enables air to more easily move through your throat when you breathe, it can reduce the severity of obstructive sleep apnea. There are various tissues that can be removed by UPPP surgery, including:

  • Part of your soft palate (roof of your mouth).
  • Tonsils, excess throat tissue and adenoids.
  • Uvula (the soft tissue that hangs down into your throat from the back of the roof of your mouth).

Your doctor may consider you to be a good candidate for UPPP if you:

  • Cannot or choose not to use CPAP.
  • Don’t improve after using CPAP.
  • Have excess tissue in your throat, nose or mouth that blocks your airway.
  • Don’t wish to have an opening made in your windpipe (tracheostomy) to treat your condition.

After UPPP, you may need CPAP therapy, however. Continuous positive airway pressure therapy involves wearing a breathing device at night to help your airways stay open as you sleep and to enable you to breathe more easily. You’ll potentially also be asked to avoid taking certain pain medications that can relax your throat muscles.

In the case of children with sleep apnea, rather than having UPPP, removing the adenoids and tonsils usually works.

The goal of UPPP is to:

  • Improve the closure and movement of your soft palate.
  • Increase the airway width at the opening of your throat.
  • Stop some of the action of your muscles to improve the airways ability to stay open.


Somnoplasty or radiofrequency tissue reduction is performed as a simple outpatient procedure. It works by enlarging the space within your throat and nose area, therefore allowing you to breath more easily while you’re asleep. This procedure is known to be particularly helpful if you’re suffering from obstructive sleep apnea.

Somnoplasty works by utilizing radiofrequency (RF) energy under local anesthesia to provide a less painful and minimally invasive treatment of any obstructions to your upper airway. The procedure is also sometimes known as radiofrequency ablation and radiofrequency volumetric tissue reduction (RFVTR).

In somnoplasty, a slim electrode creates small lesions under the surface of the tissue around the tonsils or near the back of your tongue. This tightens and reduces tissue in the target area, helping to increase space at the back of your throat. You have the procedure under local anesthetic as an outpatient at your doctors office. And, it usually only takes around 30-45 minutes.

In some cases, your doctor may wish to monitor you overnight after having the somnoplasty. That being said, you can return to your usual activities the day after your surgery. You may also be recommended to take some mild painkillers for a few days afterward.

Other Treatment Options for Sleep Apnea

Initially, your doctor usually recommends lifestyle changes to treat your sleep apnea. These may include:

  • Avoiding sleeping on your back.
  • Avoiding sleep deprivation.
  • Losing weight.
  • Not drinking alcohol near bedtime.
  • Treating nasal congestion.

Your doctor may also suggest:

  • CPAP. During your continuous positive airway pressure therapy, you wear a pressurized mask thats attached to a pump that forces air through your airway over your nose as you sleep. One drawback of this treatment is that some people just don’t like the feeling of having the mask on as they try to sleep. Also, it can be noisy.
  • Oral appliances. Oral appliances help keep your airway open by adjusting the position of your soft palate, jaw and tongue. Some people don’t like these appliances as they can cause facial discomfort.

If you wake up each morning with a headache, feel exhausted, or find that your sleeping partner has moved rooms to get some rest at night due to your choking, gasping and snoring each night, you could have sleep apnea. The only sure way to tell is to get a sleep study and diagnosis.

Similarly, if you’re worried about your partner or loved one who wakes up repeatedly at night fighting for breath, its time to speak with them about their potential condition and sleep apnea surgery options.

Suffering from sleep apnea can be a very lonely place especially when those around you don’t understand why you’re constantly tired, irritable and have problems concentrating. Over time, your lack of good quality sleep can really get to you, potentially even causing depression. Don’t suffer in silence. These surgical procedures offer real hope to you if you have sleep apnea.

You don’t need to just put up with sleep apnea. It’s always good practice to visit a sleep specialist if you feel you may have the condition. This is because it can sometimes be a sign of a more serious underlying problem, heart disease for example.

Once your sleep apnea is understood fully, your doctor can then recommend the course of action and potential work with an ENT physician to find a treatment thats most suitable for you.

If you’d like to learn more about your treatment options for obstructive sleep apnea call Sound Sleep Health in Seattle today at (425) 279-7151 .

Download our FREE eBook today that addresses the common problems and options for CPAP therapy below!

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