Can Sleep Apnea be Corrected with Surgery?

Sleep apnea is a relatively common sleep disorder that often goes undiagnosed despite being a leading cause of daytime drowsiness. Those who suffer from this disorder experience disrupted sleep throughout the night as a result of obstructed airways. There are a number of causes of sleep apnea, and different surgical procedures are available to correct the underlying causes. While surgery might seem like the most permanent and operative solution, the longterm effectiveness of these surgeries is debatable, and those contemplating surgery should consider both the type of treatment and their expectations before going under the knife.

Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (Tissue Removal)

This procedure involves the removal of excess soft tissue in the throat and back of the mouth in order to enlarge the air passage thus preventing the throat from collapsing during sleep and causing the patient to awaken. Tissue removal surgery is most successful in patients whose primary blockage occurs in the upper throat; however, tissue deeper in the throat that cannot be removed can still cause sleep apnea even after this surgery is performed. The uvula and/or tonsils are sometimes also removed during uvulopalatopharyngoplasty.

Nasal Surgery

If a nasal obstruction appears to be the major cause of an obstructed airway, a number of nasal surgeries are available to improve the flow of air and prevent obstruction. A deviated septum or a collapsed nasal passage can be corrected with surgery to improve air flow, and the success rate is high in patients whose only obstruction is nasal; however, patients with more severe cases or those with other types of obstruction can not eliminate sleep apnea through nasal surgery alone.

Pillar Procedure

Mild sleep apnea can sometimes be corrected with this minor surgery in which a doctor surgically implants 18mm polyester rods into the patient’s soft palate. As the tissue heals, the area becomes more rigid and less capable of collapsing during times of relaxation. The procedure is most successful in patients with less severe cases, but there is no guarantee that it will permanently alleviate the problem.

Orthognathic (Corrective Jaw) Surgery

Sleep apnea caused by a severely receding jaw can be corrected with orthognathic surgery, and it is one of the only causes in which surgery may be the first option. Patients whose bone structure causes an obstruction in airflow do not benefit from most corrective treatments and thus surgery is often the only option. Although the procedure can be successful, patients may find that after surgery, other underlying problems may still exist and cause sleep apnea.


The most permanent surgical solution for sleep apnea, tracheostomies are only recommended for those whose sleep apnea is extremely severe and potentially life threatening. This surgery involves a doctor creating a surgical opening in the neck where a tube is inserted to aid in breathing. With the opening uncovered at night, air can flow in and out of the body without the obstruction causing a lapse in breathing.

A number of surgical procedures are available for patients who have tried sleep apnea treatments and therapies without success. While there is no guarantee that any surgery will work, a doctor can help decide which surgery will have the best chance of correcting the underlying cause so that patients can enjoy more restful sleep and more energized days.