During normal breathing, air passes through the throat on its way to the lungs. The air travels past the tongue, soft palate, uvula, and tonsils. The soft palate is the back of the roof of the mouth. The uvula is the prominent anatomic structure dangling downward visibly at the back of the mouth (pharynx). When a person is awake, the muscles in the back of the throat tighten to hold these structures in place preventing them from collapsing and/or vibrating in the airway. During sleep, the uvula and soft palate frequently vibrate causing the distinctive sounds of snoring. Snoring may also originate from the walls of the throat and further down around the tongue base.
The most important aspect of snoring treatment is to first rule out the presence of obstructive sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is well known to be associated with signficiant medical problems such as heart disease, risk for stroke, increased somnolence, and increased risk for motor vehicle accidents. Snoring is a hallmark sign of obstrucrive sleep apnea for many patients. However, just because someone snores, it does not mean they have sleep apnea. To rule out obstructive sleep apnea, they require an overnight sleep study. The test is usually conducted in a lab or at home with specialized equipment and should be evaluated by a sleep medicine physician. When snoring is present without obstructive sleep apnea, it is called primary snoring.
Somnoplasty is an unique surgical method for reducing habitual snoring by removing or stiffening tissues of the uvula and soft palate. Unlike other approaches (such as the laser), somnoplasty uses very low levels of radiofrequency heat energy to create finely controlled localized burn-areas beneath the lining (mucosa) of the soft tissues of the soft palate. These burn areas are eventually resorbed by the body, shrinking the tissue volume and stiffening the tissues, thereby reducing symptoms of snoring. Somnoplasty is performed under local anesthesia in an outpatient setting and takes approximately 30 minutes.
The following complications have been reported in the medical literature. This list is not meant to be inclusive of every possible complication. It is here for your information only, not to frighten you, but to make you aware and more knowledgeable concerning this procedure. Although many of these complications are rare, all have occurred, at one time or another, in the hands of experienced surgeons practicing the standards of community care. Anyone who is contemplating any type of surgery must weigh the potential risks and complications against the potential benefits of the surgery, or any alternative to surgery.
- Failure to resolve or eliminate snoring. Most surgeons feel that about 80% of patients who undergo a somnoplasty will have a significant reduction in their snoring at least a year or more; and an additional percentage of patients will notice reduced levels of snoring such that their sleep partners will report that it's level is no longer offensive.
- Failure to cure sleep apnea or other pathological sleep disorders. Pathological sleep disorders, like sleep apnea, are medical problems which may have associated serious complications. At this time, the somnoplasty procedure has not been proven to cure these disorders.
- Nasal regurgitation, a change in voice, or velopharyngeal insufficiency whereby liquids may flow into the nasal cavity during swallowing (rare).
- Need for revision, or further and more aggressive surgery.
- Prolonged pain, infection, bleeding, or impaired healing.
- Thermal or electrical injury to the mucus membranes of the soft palate, uvula, or mouth. This may result in tissue loss by burn.
- While not considered a complication, recurrence of snoring over time (usually greater than a year) has been noted for many snoring treatments. This is felt to occur as the tissue stretches out over time.