Surgical Snoring Option

If you live in Canada, but suffer from snoring or obstructive sleep apnea, then you will likely be relieved to learn that there are actually a lot of surgical options at your disposal for treating the problem. Surgical options are not usually the first thing that people think of when it comes to snoring and sleep apnea – but they do have their merits.

Surgical options are generally more permanent, and can sometimes do a lot of good in a very short period of time. Needless to say, a lot of doctors will usually try a different method before recommending surgery as a course of treatment. If you are suffering from sleep apnea, they will likely prescribe CPAP before signing you up for a full-fledged snoring surgery.

Of course, the downside to choosing the surgical route is that you need to go through the procedure. And even if you do go through it, there is always a chance that it may not work. If it doesn’t, then you are not really out much, except for the downtime, of course… but procedures are also quite invasive, and that may not appeal to everyone either.

In this post, we are going to take a look at some of the most common surgical snoring options in Canada. Hopefully, the more you learn about these options, the closer you can come to figuring out if one of them might be right for you.

But keep in mind that these are very brief descriptions. Before making up your mind for sure, you should look closer at the type of procedure that you’re interested in and ask your doctor about it.

The History of Snoring Surgery

Before we talk about snoring surgery options, let’s take a brief look at the history of snoring surgery in-general.

Did you know that, at one time in history, shock therapy was used to treat snoring? Of course, it didn’t work… because snoring is involuntary. But it goes to show that humans have been dealing with the problem for probably almost as long as we have existed.

The truth of the matter is that snoring and sleep apnea are both dangerous. Sleep apnea, however, is much more than a nuisance. It is actually a life-threatening medical condition that can put you at an increased risk for many debilitating health problems later on in life.

Until the late 20th century, there really weren’t any good treatment options for OSA, aside from basic lifestyle changes.

Permanent tracheostomy was one of the first surgical procedures to be used to treat obstructive sleep apnea, but there were a number of reasons for why this was not a desirable procedure to undergo.

During a tracheostomy, an incision is made in the windpipe to help relieve obstructions and to make breathing possible in situations where it would otherwise not be possible.

This procedure is more often used as a temporary means to assist a breathing-impaired patient when the upper respiratory system is compromised… but there are some select occasions when it is performed and left in permanently.

This results are visible ‘skin flaps’ and other complications that cause not only social stigma, but also basic communication difficulties.

But in 1976, a Japanese doctor by the name of Takenosuke Ikematsu first described uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP) as a treatment for snoring. At the time, the procedure was new, and actually wasn’t named UPPP… but it served as a treatment for snoring, and was a precursur to some of the surgeries we now see in the medical field today, both for snoring and for obstructive sleep apnea.

In 1981, another Japanese doctor by the name of Shiro Fujita modified this procedure and turned it into a treatment for obstructive sleep apnea.

Dr. Shiro Fujita’s work, in perfecting the aforementioned surgery, led to a procedure in which the uvula, part of the soft palate, the tonsils, and some of the tissue in the back of the throat were all removed to help treat obstructive sleep apnea.

Of course, this took place after a definitive study on sleep apnea was published in 1978. It was Dr. Fujita’s perfected surgical procedure that was first coined ‘uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP).’ 

But that was still not the end of it.

The procedure was actually further perfected by a French physician in 1988. By this time, a newer and less intrusive method had been found for reshaping the palate. This procedure was called LAUP, or laser assisted uvulopalatoplasty. 

Since this procedure didn’t remove the tonsils or tissue from the back of the throat, it was found more suitable for sufferers of mild sleep apnea. But it still proved an important milestone in snoring surgery.

The Pillar Procedure actually didn’t come onto the scene until 2002. But since it was first introduced, it has only grown in popularity.

How Are These Procedures Meant To Work?

There are several different procedures that are more commonly used to treat snoring and sleep apnea. Here are a few of them and how they work.

Uvulopalatoplasty (Radio-frequency)

Uvulopalatoplasty

This procedure is more for people with mild snoring or sleep apnea. Basically, energy is delivered with a probe to different locations on the soft palate, which heats the tissue and creates scarring that will help to tighten up the loose soft palate.

This same technique can be used on the base of the tongue as well, if that is the area causing the problem.

Pillar Procedure

How Does Pillar Procedure Work

In this procedure, small rods are inserted into the soft palate to help them stiffen up. The main downside to this one is that not everyone is a good candidate for it. But it has shown a lot of promise in treating both snoring and sleep apnea.

Though it is not intended as a treatment for severe sleep apnea, the Pillar Procedure is popular because it is so simple. To perform the procedure, a topical anesthetic is applied to the soft palate to prepare the area for local anesthetic. After that, the first implant is then position and inserted, using a disposable insertion device. Three rods, in total, are implanted into the soft palate during the procedure… which may take weeks, or even months after healing to show how well it is going to work.

The reason for this is because it can sometimes take a little while for the tissue to ‘harden’ around the rods. Once the tissue hardens, snoring and OSA are much less likely to occur.

There are very few potential side effects with this procedure. They include a sore throat, a ‘strange feeling’ of having something foreign implanted into your body, and difficulty swallowing.

Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (Commonly known as UP3)

Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty

This procedure is more commonly used to treat obstructive sleep apnea, and involves the removal and tightening of some of the tissues in the airway to treat the root causes of the problem. Laser removal is one possible technique that may be used during such a procedure.

Lateral Pharyngoplasty And Tonsillectomy

This procedure basically involves the removal and repositioning of pharyngeal and tonsil tissue. This combination method, however, has generally shown to work better than a simple Tonsillectomy.

Palate Surgery (UP3, uvular flap rotation and tonsillectomy)

Palate Surgery

This surgical procedure is performed under general anesthesia, and is intended to treat obstructive sleep apnea. It basically combines tissue removal with tissue repositioning… though it is a bit more in-depth than some of the other procedures on this list.

Do We Believe That These Procedures Work?

There are certainly a lot of different surgical snore treatment options available to Canadians. There are also a lot of good reasons to consider a snoring procedure as a treatment for your snoring or sleep apnea.

But do we believe that these procedures are a good treatment option?

Well, the science speaks for itself in regard to surgical procedures for snoring. Yes, they can help, and often do. They might not help in every case, but it seems that they do tend to do a pretty good job the majority of the time. Of course, lifestyle changes can sometimes make just as much of a difference, as can much less invasive stop snoring devices and home remedies.

But on the flipside, snoring surgeries give you a one-time-shot at solving pretty much all of your future snoring problems – so that, in itself, is a good thing, right?

The key is to figure out if a certain procedure may be right for you. And for best results, you may need to talk to your doctor to figure that out.

The Positives

Here are the general positives about stop snoring surgeries…

  • If they work, they are usually permanent
  • They do have a very good track record of working
  • In Canada, you can often get these types of surgeries without having to pay for them out of pocket
  • They are a one-time-shot that can fix your snoring problems for good in some cases

The Negatives

Here are some of the downsides to stop snoring surgeries…

  • The procedure itself is often quite invasive
  • There is a chance that you will go through the entire procedure and still snore
  • If you have to pay for a surgery out of pocket, it is very expensive
  • Not everyone is a good candidate for every type of surgery

Who Should Look Into Surgical Procedures For Snoring?

If you snore badly or suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, then you might be a very good candidate for a snoring surgery. But only your doctor can tell you, for sure, if one of these procedures could work for you.

Who Should Avoid Snoring Or Sleep Apnea Surgery?

If your snoring problem is very mild, then surgery may not be a requirement. Aside from that, your doctor may be the only person qualified to tell you if you should or shouldn’t seek out such treatment.

Are There Any Side Effect Risks With Snoring Surgery?

As with any type of surgical procedure, there is at least a certain level of risk to getting snoring surgery. The exact level of risk, as well as the types of side effects that one can expect, varies by procedure. But as a general rule, here is a list of side effects that could potentially present themselves in the aftermath of a snoring surgery.

  • Pain and soreness
  • Infection
  • Sore throat
  • Physical discomfort from the feeling of having something in your throat
  • Mouth, nose, or throat dryness
  • Continued snoring (if the surgery is not a success)
  • Breathing problems
  • Change in the tone/sound of voice

Of course, side effects are rare with these types of surgeries… especially since some of them are pretty mild. The Pillar Procedure, for example, is a very mild surgery and is actually done very quickly.

But if you ever do get snoring surgery, remember to ask your doctor about any side effect risks. And of course, as with any surgical procedure, if you start to feel feverish or develop severe pain very soon after the surgery, you should always call your doctor right away… as these could be signs of an infection resulting from the surgery.

In fact, uvulopalatopharyngoplasty and uvulopalatoplasty have both been associated with a risk of long-term side effects, which include difficulty in swallowing. This has been demonstrated in studies.

In one study, titled Effects and Side-Effects of Surgery for Snoring and Obstructive Sleep Apnea – A Systematic Reviewwe actually learn that there is a surprising lack of evidence for how well some different snoring surgeries actually work.

In the conclusion of the study, they say that…

  • Only a small number of randomized, controlled trials are available
  • These trials contain a limited number of patients
  • The studies do not provide evidence of effect from laser-assisted uvulopalatoplasty or radiofrequency ablation on daytime sleepiness, apnea reduction, quality of life or snoring

Here is a quote that basically summarizes the results of the study.

“We call for research of randomized controlled trials of surgery other than uvulopalatopharyngoplasty and uvulopalatoplasty, as they are related to a high risk of long-term side-effects, especially difficulty swallowing.”

There are, as a general rule, quite a few opponents of snoring surgery in the anti-snoring product world. This also seems rather obvious, and there are two general reasons for it.

1… Anti-snoring companies want to sell more products

2… Many researchers believe that anti-snoring surgery actually isn’t worth the potential risks, and that anti-snoring devices are just better for treating snoring in the long run.

One possible exception is the Pillar Procedure. Since it is so minimally invasive and so simple to get done, many people actually feel that the Pillar Procedure stands out among other snoring surgeries as an excellent option for qualifying candidates.

When Will A Doctor Consider Surgery For Snoring?

If you go to your doctor for a snoring problem, there is little doubt that surgery will at least be discussed. But what will it take for a doctor to consider surgery a plausible option for you?

There are actually several steps to this process.

First, your doctor will conduct a thorough physical examination. He/she will also conduct a thorough review of your medical history, and will conduct a sleep study.

Among other things, your doctor will look at:

  • How much you snore
  • How tired you are during the day
  • Whether or not you stop breathing when you sleep (indicating obstructive sleep apnea)
  • Your blood pressure
  • Any blood pressure medication you may currently be taking
  • Your body mass index
  • Your age (are you 50 or older?)
  • Your neck circumference
  • Your gender (males are at a higher risk for snoring and sleep apnea)

The doctor will then compile a score to show how likely you are to have sleep apnea.

The doctor will usually discuss choices for procedures with the patient once all relevant factors have been weighed. The outcome of any particular procedure may also be highly dependent upon the skill of the surgeon.

Final Thoughts

Snoring surgery can be an awesome option for some people. It really depends on your situation, though… and for that, only your doctor can really tell you if you may qualify.

There is, of course, also the cost to consider. Snoring surgeries can be quite expensive in some countries. The United States especially is known for having high costs for medical care of this nature… and sometimes, even people with private insurance need to pay high deductibles to get treatment.

At the end of the day, you should always make sure to do the research and to look into every detail. Doing your due diligence and talking to your doctor will almost always reveal the best course of action for your particular situation.

Updated 2.25.2019

Josh Sigafus Editor

Joshua Sigafus is just a writer trying to make the world a better place. You can find him on Facebook.