Obstructive Sleep Apnea – also called obstructive sleep apnea syndrome – occurs when there are repeated episodes of complete or partial blockage of the upper airway during sleep. During a sleep apnea episode, the diaphragm and chest muscles work harder trying to open the airway. Breathing usually resumes with a loud gasp, snort, or body jerk. These episodes can interfere with sound sleep. They can also reduce the flow of oxygen to vital organs and cause irregularities in heart rhythm.

There are a number of factors that can contribute to sleep apnea. A thick soft palette and enlarged uvula are one of the most common reasons for upper airway obstruction. Other contributing factors could be a person’s body mass index, social habits, possibly heredity, or thyroid disorders.

Once a sleep study is performed, this will determine your level of sleep apnea.  If you have mild or moderate sleep apnea, you may be a candidate for CPAP.  This is a machine that is used at night to deliver oxygen and pressurized air.   If the CPAP machine is intolerable or does not improve your sleep apnea, you may be a candidate for a UPPP.

Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP)

Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty is a procedure that removes excess tissue in the throat to make the airway wider. This sometimes can allow air to move through the throat more easily when you breathe, reducing the severity of obstructive sleep apnea.

The tissues that are removed may include:

  • The soft fingerlike tissue that hangs down from the back of the roof of the mouth into the throat (uvula)
  • Part of the roof of the mouth (soft palate)
  • Excess throat tissue, tonsils, and adenoids

What to Expect After Surgery

You may need continuous positive airway pressure therapy (CPAP) therapy after surgery. CPAP therapy uses a breathing device that you wear at night that helps you breathe more easily and prevents your airway from closing during sleep.

Some pain medicines can relax the throat muscles. You may have to avoid these medicines after surgery to make it less likely that your airways will narrow and cause apnea episodes.

How Well it Works

Results from UPPP are variable, depending on the severity of obstructive sleep apnea and degree of airway obstruction.

UPPP may stop snoring, but apnea episodes may continue.

Even if surgery successfully removes the blockage, you may still need CPAP after surgery, again depending on other contributing factors.


Complications during surgery include accidental damage to surrounding blood vessels or tissues.

Complications after surgery may include:

  • Sleepiness and periods of not breathing (apnea) related to the medicines that are used to relieve pain and help you sleep
  • Swelling, pain, infection, or bleeding
  • Speech problems – the surgery may result in a nasal quality to the voice
  • Narrowing of the airway in the nose and throat

What to Think About

Before considering surgery, you should try CPAP.

You will need a sleep study after UPPP surgery to find out if your sleep apnea has improved. If you still stop breathing at night, you may still need CPAP.

Laser-assisted uvulopalatoplasty is sometimes used to treat mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnea, although not all people benefit. This procedure is not approved by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine to treat sleep apnea.

People who are obese or who have some other illnesses are more likely to have complications after UPPP.