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August 2020 |  Reviewed by: Shelley Hershner, MD and Reeba Mathew, MD

What is surgery?

Surgery may be a part of the treatment plan for some patients with sleep apnea or snoring. Your sleep team may recommend surgery if you can’t tolerate CPAP therapy, which is the most effective treatment option for sleep apnea.

Some surgeries are minimally invasive, while others are more complex. The goal of surgery is to treat the areas of the airway that collapse and block your breathing during sleep. Surgery may stiffen, remove or reposition tissues in and around your throat. These surgeries may focus on the:

  • Soft palate and uvula
  • Tonsils and adenoids
  • Tongue
  • Upper and lower jaw

Weight loss surgery may also help treat sleep apnea in patients who are extremely obese.

Treating sleep apnea through surgery is a team effort. Your sleep doctor works with a sleep team to provide the highest quality of care.

The sleep doctor will detect and diagnose your sleep apnea. He or she will perform a detailed examination of the entire upper airway before discussing your treatment options. The doctor may direct you to a surgeon (otolaryngologist) or an oral surgeon (oral maxillofacial surgeon) to perform the surgery. After the surgery is complete, you will need to follow up with your sleep doctor. Typically a repeat sleep study will be done to see if the sleep apnea has improved or resolved.

If you are considering surgery to treat your sleep apnea, make sure to ask your doctor the following questions:

  • What is the success rate of the surgery?
  • How long will it take to recover?
  • How much school or work will I miss?
  • How will this procedure improve my snoring or sleep apnea?
  • Why is surgery a better option for me than CPAP or oral appliance therapy?
  • What are all of the possible risks and side effects?

Surgery is not the right choice for everyone. Some people may benefit more from surgery than others. Side effects of surgery may include:

  • Pain
  • Bleeding and throat swelling
  • Orthodontia and a limited diet for several weeks
  • Overnight hospital stay

In some cases, the benefits may not be permanent and sleep apnea may return.