Have you ever dreamed you were competing in a spelling bee back in school? Everyone but you and one other person is out of the competition. And then… the judges give you your word: uvulopalatopharyngoplasty. And all of a sudden, it doesn’t matter how well you have prepared. That’s one tough word to spell (even for an amazing, non-dreaming speller).
Humorously enough, uvulopalatopharyngoplasty isn’t a fake word. It’s an actual word. Turns out, uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (called UPPP for short, mercifully) is a medical procedure created to help manage obstructive sleep apnea.
When more conservative treatments haven’t really worked out, this surgical approach is sometimes used. For those individuals, UPPP can provide a viable way to lessen your obstructive sleep apnea symptoms and help you get a restful night’s rest.
What is Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty?
Sleep apnea can have a large number of causes. But often, your own body’s tissue is the trigger. These tissues can block your airways when they begin to loosen up and sag. As a result of this obstruction, you begin to snore, and you stop breathing. Because of this, sleep apnea can disrupt your normal sleep schedule.
This means you can feel drained all the time, wake up often (or with headaches), and feel generally awful. Sleep apnea has even led to death occasionally (and respiratory disorders should be treated seriously).
A substantial amount of tissue will be eliminated from your throat by your surgeon during a UPPP surgery. The concept is that eliminating this excess tissue will also get rid of the blockage from your airway. This method was first developed in 1981, and since that time, it’s become an ever more effective solution for a particular group of sleep apnea patients.
Is UPPP right for you?
UPPP isn’t right for everybody or for all sorts of breathing disorders. In fact, to be an ideal candidate for UPPP, it’s important for you to have the correct kind of sleep apnea. Further, only those with Stage 1 obstructive sleep apnea will likely be helped by this surgery.
All other treatment solutions should be exhausted first. You’re a candidate for UPPP if:
- Your general quality of life is being negatively affected by obstructive sleep apnea.
- The desired outcome hasn’t been accomplished by decreasing your BMI or losing weight.
- Your symptoms are not alleviated by any other treatment solutions. This might include a CPAP machine or other treatments also.
- Stage one sleep apnea has been diagnosed by your doctor. This procedure isn’t correct for individuals with stage two or three sleep apnea.
- Your soft palate, nostrils, or other soft tissue near your airways has structural issues.
It’s essential for anybody with a sleep-associated disorder to get the proper treatment. We will be able to assess your symptoms and provide you with a diagnosis. Then we will establish a treatment plan specific to your situation.
What is a UPPP surgery like?
Usually, general anesthesia is utilized for a UPPP surgery. Before the procedure begins, your surgeon will figure out which parts of your airway are causing the biggest obstructions. Why you have so much extra tissue in your throat is something we will have to determine. Every person is a little bit different in this regard.
During a UPPP surgery, your surgeon will remove tissue from the following areas:
- The mass of tissue hanging down at the back of the mouth, called the uvula.
- Around the throat, any excess tissue. If you still have tonsils and adenoids, this might include them.
- Toward the back of, and on the roof of your mouth, the soft palate.
- It’s possible that your surgeon might also remove tissue from your tongue. It’s actually a different surgery, when you have tissue eliminated from your tongue, called uvulopalatopharyngoglossoplasty (which is also quite the tongue twister, uh, no pun intended). If you’re a good candidate for this surgery, it’s something your surgeon will talk with you about well in advance.
The incisions will be sutured closed by your surgeon at the end of the surgery. UPPP is usually done on an outpatient basis, but an overnight stay in a hospital is occasionally required. Your local healthcare setting, your general health, and your surgeon are all factors here. Before you go home, your surgeon will want to be sure that you can swallow normally.
How do you get ready for your UPPP procedure?
As with any surgical procedure, you might have to take a number of steps to get ready for your UPPP appointment. You will most likely discuss these steps with your surgeon long in advance, so nothing should be too alarming.
Here are some preoperative instructions you might get:
- You might be asked to fast for a number of hours before your surgery.
- Making certain to discontinue using certain medications, particularly over-the-counter pain relievers including aspirin or ibuprofen (you want to steer clear of any blood thinners not recommended by your surgeon).
- On the day of your procedure, you may be required to take particular medications.
- You will be given guidelines to tell your surgeon if you get sick, even with a cold. This might postpone your procedure.
- After your surgery, you will need a ride home and this is especially true if your surgery is on an outpatient basis.
- Your doctor will provide you with a full list of what to avoid using and what to keep taking.
Your provider will provide you with all of this information well before your surgical date, but be sure to ask any and all questions you may have along the way.
After surgery – post-operative care
The duration of your recovery from UPPP surgery will differ, depending on how much tissue has been extracted by your surgeon. But 2-4 weeks is around the average recovery time.
You should steer clear of vigorous activity during the first couple of weeks, but you should be certain that you don’t remain too inactive. Walking around and doing normal activities will help you avoid blood clotting.
For the first 1-3 weeks, most patients will:
- Have a sore throat. For several weeks after surgery, this sore throat could linger.
- Avoid infection by utilizing a salt-water-based mouthwash.
- Eat only soft foods. At first, you will only be drinking clear liquids and when you’re ready you can progress to eating soft foods. When we give you the thumbs up, you can progress to a regular diet.
Make sure to ask us any questions you may have about what you should expect while you’re recovering. In around 2-3 weeks, you will have a follow-up appointment to assess your healing and find out what you can expect from your sleep apnea going forward.
Possible complications from UPPP surgery
As with any surgical procedure, there are risks and complications that can be associated with UPPP. Some possible complications are significantly more common than others, though most complications are uncommon. Here are a few possible complications:
- Vocal changes: Your voice may sound different after your surgery. Consonants that call for the use of the uvula, called uvula consonants, might become difficult. These consonants (typically written with dots or dashes above them) are common in languages like French, Hebrew, Dutch, and Swedish.
- Scar tissue: Scar tissue can build up around the incision during the healing process. In some cases, this scar tissue can make you feel like you have something stuck in your throat or that your throat is irritated. Even though this complication isn’t common, when it does happen, it might require further surgery to completely clear.
- A condition known as “velopharyngeal insufficiency” could cause liquid to go up into your nose when you drink. It means that when you swallow, your throat isn’t precisely coordinating with your soft palate. This side effect is normally temporary when it occurs.
- Bleeding or swelling of the area that was operated on.
- Blood clots.
Be certain to talk to your surgeon about all the possible risks from UPPP. Making certain you’re well-informed and answering all of your questions is a critical step that your surgeon will take.
Is UPPP effective?
So here’s the final question, is UPPP surgery effective? And when the procedure is completed, what can people expect? Well, UPPP does offer a substantial amount of lasting relief from obstructive sleep apnea for most well-qualified patients.
Again, this surgery isn’t for everyone. For patients that aren’t as very good a fit, the advantages of UPPP may only be effective for a few years.
Once the surgery is complete, you might experience:
- Fewer headaches.
- An improved ability to focus throughout the day.
- Less snoring.
- More restful sleep.
- More energy.
For some, the need to use a CPAP machine will be completely eliminated. But a CPAP machine might still need some use for some people. After your procedure, we will still keep an eye on your symptoms.
Is UPPP my only choice?
Surgery is definitely not the only way to manage sleep apnea. For people who have tried other therapies with little to no relief, UPPP surgery might be the best solution. The decision is in the hands of the patient and with our assistance, we can figure out your comfort level.
But UPPP surgery is really only an effective plan for a specific set of symptoms and a specific group of patients.
How to sleep better
Your sleep cycle can be disturbed by obstructive sleep apnea, even if you’ve slept all night long. For individuals with specific types of sleep apnea, uvulopalatopharyngoplasty can provide a substantial and effective treatment.
You should get in touch with us as soon as possible if you’re having a hard time sleeping or if you suspect you may have sleep apnea. Sometimes, treating sleep apnea can be a simple fix. Surgical intervention may be needed in other more specialized cases.
The objective 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!