Palate surgery, such as uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP or UP3), palatopharyngoplasty, or uvulopalatal flap, is performed under general anesthesia in the operating room. Palate surgery is combined with tonsillectomy in most patients who have tonsils that have not previously been removed. Palate surgery (with or without tonsillectomy) is principally used to treat obstructive sleep apnea. The procedure involves a combination of tissue removal and tissue repositioning that aims to increase the size of the airway without affecting normal functions such as breathing, speaking, and swallowing.
Is palate surgery for snoring or sleep apnea just one procedure for everyone?
Not at all. Because no two patients are identical, the exact steps involved in palate surgery for each patient are different. Often Dr. Kezirian will remove the tonsils and only then be able to determine what specific type of palate surgery will best be able to open the space for breathing without causing undue risks.
For more information about palate surgery and the differences between the procedures, please see Dr. Kezirian’s blog entry about choosing the best palate surgery for snoring and sleep apnea.
View of the mouth before palate surgery
View of the mouth after healing from uvulopalatopharyngoplasty or uvulopalatal flap
View of the mouth after healing from palatopharyngoplasty
The following video presents a discussion of palate procedures, including uvulopalatopharyngoplasty:
Palate surgery carries a risk of bleeding, and the risk is higher if tonsillectomy is also performed. A major factor in preventing serious bleeding is to avoid the use of aspirin, NSAIDs (such as ibuprofen, Advil®, Motrin®, naproxen, or Aleve®), vitamin supplements, or herbal medications for at least two weeks before and after surgery. Approximately 2-4% patients who undergo palate surgery or tonsillectomy experience bleeding after surgery. Half of these patients require an additional procedure—either in the outpatient clinic or the operating room—to control their bleeding. Please notify Dr. Kezirian immediately if you have bleeding of a teaspoon or more. If the bleeding is significant, immediately seek care in the closest emergency department or call 911.
Infection is rare but not impossible after palate surgery or tonsillectomy. Patients typically receive antibiotics at the time of surgery to reduce the chance of infection and decrease swelling. Patients should not use mouthwashes following surgery because many of these contain alcohol that can irritate the lining of the mouth and interfere with healing.
The palate is important in swallowing because it seals the connection between the back of the mouth and the back of the nose. After palate surgery, it is possible to have foods, especially liquids, come up in the back of the nose or occasionally through the nose. This happens in many patients for a brief period (1-2 days) due to swelling in the area, but it is unusual for this complication to be permanent and significant.
Changes in speech
Any operation on the palate can cause changes in speech, but these changes are rarely permanent.
Throat dryness or feeling of something stuck in the throat
Any operation on the palate can affect the throat in unpredictable ways, and it is possible for some patients to dryness or a feeling that something is stuck in the throat. These are usually temporary, but they can be permanent.
Narrowing at the top of the throat
Rarely, palate surgery will result in narrowing behind the palate—which is also the top of the throat. This complication can make breathing through the nose difficult as well as create problems with speaking and swallowing. Additional surgery may be necessary to correct this problem.
Operating in the back of the throat is impossible unless an instrument is placed to keep the mouth open. This is the same instrument used when tonsillectomies are done. Rarely, a tooth may be injured by this instrument, and the risk is much higher if a tooth is loose or decayed prior to surgery.
Most patients undergoing palate surgery will also have loud snoring. The goal of palate surgery is to eliminate obstructive sleep apnea. Usually snoring will improve dramatically if this goal is accomplished. However, many patients will continue to snore to some extent, even after surgery that resolves obstructive sleep apnea completely.
NOTIFY DR. KEZIRIAN IMMEDIATELY IF YOU HAVE ANY TROUBLE BREATHING OR IF ANY BLEEDING DEVELOPS!
Hospital stay and discharge
Most patients stay in the hospital 1-2 days. The major concerns while you are in the hospital are making sure you are breathing freely, having no bleeding, controlling your pain with oral medications, and drinking enough fluids to have no risk of dehydration. Many people ask if they need someone to stay with them at home. You do need someone to stay with you the first night home after discharge, for safety. Beyond that, it is helpful to have someone available and checking on you to provide assistance when needed, although they do not have to stay with you 24 hours a day, every day. Planning before surgery (for example, buying milk or nutritional supplements) will decrease the amount of help you need at home after surgery.
Like most surgeries, there is pain in the recovery period. However, we want to control your pain to make you comfortable during your recovery. Some people try to “hang in there” or suffer without taking pain medications. Controlling your pain is important for breathing, healing, and being able to swallow enough to maintain your nutrition.
While in the hospital, we will control your pain with oral medications, starting on the day of surgery. You can also hold ice chips inside your mouth to decrease swelling and reduce pain. Although we will use intravenous pain medications if necessary, the goal will be to use oral medications alone because this is what you will use when you go home after surgery. You will not receive a prescription for pain medications before surgery, as we will send you home with the type of medication and the amount that worked well for you in the hospital.
When you are at home, take your pain medication as you need it. You can also continue to hold ice chips inside your mouth to decrease pain and swelling. Use the pain medication in the same way as it worked in the hospital. Some days may be worse than others, and it may be frustrating because the pain continues at roughly the same level for 10-14 days after surgery. Try not to let the pain increase until it becomes intolerable before you take the medication. If you are running out of medication and need more, please call the office in advance to obtain another prescription. If you prefer to avoid narcotics, you should feel free to use acetaminophen (Tylenol®). Avoid aspirin, NSAIDs (such as ibuprofen, Advil®, Motrin®, naproxen, or Aleve®), vitamin supplements, or herbal medications for at least two weeks because they can increase your risk of bleeding after surgery. Your pain will be significant for at least the first 7-10 days following surgery, but it should improve markedly by 14 days following surgery.
Ice in the mouth
Holding ice in the mouth while they melt and cool the surgical area can help with pain control. Doing this for the first 2-3 days after surgery is somewhat similar to applying ice to a sprained ankle. It is one of the safest ways to reduce pain and can make the healing process easier.
Nutrition and fluids
It is very important to have good nutrition and avoid dehydration after surgery. Due to the pain and swelling that is expected after surgery, you will most likely only be able to tolerate a liquid diet for the first 4-5 days after surgery. Push yourself to drink fluids, even if it is painful. The first sign of dehydration is a decrease in urination, so keep track of this. In addition to water, it is It is helpful to drink other liquids, such as juices or Gatorade®. It is also essential that your body receive protein and fat in your diet to help with healing and maintaining your energy level. Every day, you should have 3 glasses of something with fat and protein like milk or chocolate milk, nutritional supplements like Boost® or Ensure®, or protein shakes. Dr. Kezirian may order a nutritional supplement like this while you are in the hospital. As your recovery continues, you will transition to soft solid foods such as eggs, yogurt, or mashed potatoes. You should be able to tolerate a fairly normal diet by 2 weeks after surgery. During the recovery period, you should avoid foods with sharp edges such as chips because these can cause bleeding. Otherwise, you can advance your diet according to your own schedule, being careful not to cause too much pain. Dr. Kezirian wants his patients to maintain their nutrition so that they do not lose weight in the few weeks right after surgery.
Most patients receive an antibiotic while in the hospital. You may be prescribed an antibiotic to take when you go home. This can be useful for preventing infection and decreasing swelling. Take the antibiotics as directed. If you develop a rash or diarrhea (possible risks of antibiotics and other medications), stop the antibiotics and contact Dr. Kezirian immediately.
Walking after surgery is important. Patients should walk at least 3 times a day starting the day after surgery. Walking helps prevent blood clots from forming in your legs. Spending more time out of bed (walking or in a chair) than in bed is helpful because your lungs fill up with air, lowering the risk of fevers and pneumonia. Not walking enough is a major cause of fevers after surgery, so please do remember to walk at least 3 times every day. Patients should avoid strenuous activity for 4 weeks following surgery because that typically raises heart rate and blood pressure. For this reason, it can increase swelling or cause bleeding to start.
Do not use mouthwashes, lozenges, or throat sprays
Patients should not use mouthwashes, lozenges, or throat sprays following surgery because many of these contain alcohol or other chemicals that can irritate the lining of the mouth or numbing medication that can expose you to a serious complication when used for more than a couple of times.
Ear problems or jaw discomfort
The swelling in your throat that occurs after surgery can cause jaw pain or ear symptoms such as pain, pressure, or fullness. This is common and should improve within 1-2 weeks following surgery. It occurs because the soft palate and tonsils are next to the jaw and the small Eustachian tube that connects the space behind the eardrum to the top of the throat. Swelling in the throat can interfere with your ability to clear or pop your ears, and it can also be sensed by your body as pain coming from your ears even though the ears are not affected (a phenomenon called referred pain).
Sleep with head elevated (at 45 degrees) for at least three days
Elevating your head during sleep decreases blood flow to the head and neck regions. Therefore, it decreases swelling and the associated pain. Elevating the head during sleep may also improve breathing patterns in other ways. Therefore, we recommend elevating your head during sleep at 45 degrees for at least three days following the procedure.
Nausea and constipation
Nausea and constipation are very common after any surgery. The anesthetic medications that you receive during surgery and the narcotic pain medication you receive after surgery can cause these. You will receive medications after surgery to decrease nausea and constipation, but please notify Dr. Kezirian if you feel constipated or have not had a bowel movement in any 3 days after surgery.
Dr. Kezirian likes to see his patients 1-2 weeks after surgery. If a postoperative appointment has not been scheduled, please contact the office at 323-442-5790 to schedule this when you return home after your surgery.
For any emergencies, please call 911. For other questions, please contact Dr. Kezirian at [email protected]. If you would like to speak with someone, please call the Call Center at 323-442-5790 and ask to speak to Dr. Kezirian or whomever is answering calls for his patients.