Surgery to Treat Sleep Apnea

Sometimes the structure of the mouth and throat is such that the only treatment for sleep apnea is surgery. The type of surgery needed depends on the cause of the sleep apnea. Some of the surgical procedures that may help a person with sleep apnea include:

  • Advancing the lower jaw (genioglossus advancement). This moves the part of the lower jaw that attaches to the tongue forward. After the surgery, the tongue is further away from the back of the airway.
  • Moving the hyoid suspension. This is a small bone in the neck where some of the muscles of the tongue are attached. In this procedure, the hyoid suspension is moved forward in front of the larynx.
  • Placing supports for the soft palate at the back and roof of the mouth (pillar procedure). Three small inserts are injected into the soft palate. This reduces snoring for people with mild to moderate sleep apnea.
  • Reducing the base of the tongue either using lasers or radiofrequency ablation. 
  • Removing the tonsils and adenoids if they block the airway. This can be especially helpful for children who have sleep apnea.
  • Repositioning of the lower jaw (maxillomandibular advancement). In difficult cases where the cause of the sleep apnea is believed to be an abnormal facial structure, this surgery may be used. In this procedure, the upper and lower jaws are detached from the skull, pulled forward and reattached with pins, plates or both.
  • Surgery on the nose. This type of surgery includes getting rid of blockages, straightening the septum, which divides the left and right nostrils or eliminating congestion that might reduce airflow.
  • Surgery to put a small hole and tube in the windpipe (a tracheostomy). Air flows through the tube into the lungs. This is only done in cases where someone has severe sleep apnea and all other treatments have failed.
  • Surgery to rebuild the lower jaw. 
  • Surgery to remove the tonsils, uvula (the tissue that hangs down in the middle of the back of the throat), part of the roof of the mouth at the back of the throat. This is only effective for some people with sleep apnea.