Uvula removal surgery is a procedure to remove part or all of the uvula. It may be a treatment option for sleep apnea.

The uvula is a small pendant-shaped section of flesh that hangs down at the back of the throat between the tonsils. It helps people swallow and helps prevent choking. The uvula is also involved in sound articulation and may help with moistening the throat.

Uvula removal surgery, or uvulectomy, removes part or all of the uvula through a surgical procedure. Uvula removal may occur as a treatment for certain medical conditions or for traditional purposes in some cultures in sub-Saharan Africa.

This article explores uvula removal in more detail, including the benefits and potential risks.

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Uvulectomy is a procedure to remove part or all of the uvula.

Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP) is a procedure that removes or alters tissues of the palate, which includes the uvula and surrounding muscles.

People may have uvula removal surgery to treat certain medical conditions, such as sleep apnea or hereditary angioneurotic edema (HANE).

People may also have surgery on the uvula to reduce snoring. According to a 2018 review, a larger uvula size may link to severe snoring and sleep apnea.

Read about types of sleep apnea.

Uvula removal surgery may help treat certain medical conditions, such as sleep apnea and HANE.

HANE is a rare condition that causes severe swelling of body parts, including the airways. Although a uvulectomy is a treatment option for HANE, healthcare professionals may first opt for nonsurgical treatments, such as medications.

According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, UPPP is the most common type of surgery to treat sleep apnea.

The most common type of airway obstruction in sleep apnea occurs in the upper section of the throat. UPPP removes or alters tissues in the back area of the throat.

This can improve nighttime breathing, reduce snoring, and improve the quality of a person’s sleep. Consequently, people may feel less tired during the day and notice an improvement in their quality of life.

Learn more about surgery for sleep apnea.

As a treatment for medical conditions, uvulectomy or UPPP may come with surgical risks, such as:

In some parts of sub-Saharan Africa, uvulectomy is a traditional and cultural procedure. It is partly ritualistic and partly a treatment or prevention of certain diseases, particularly in young children. In traditional uses, uvulectomy may cause severe or fatal side effects.

Before having surgery on the uvula, people will have a thorough consultation with a doctor about what the surgery involves and what to expect.

The doctor will perform a presurgical evaluation to ensure a person is suitable for surgery. This may include:

  • taking a full medical history
  • performing a physical examination of the head and neck
  • using an endoscopy or imaging tests to look for issues in the throat area

People may want to note down questions to ask a doctor about their surgery, such as:

  • What are the potential benefits?
  • What are the possible side effects, risks, or complications?
  • What will recovery involve?
  • When will it be possible to return to work?
  • Will any additional treatments be necessary?

A doctor will provide people with specific instructions for how to prepare before their surgery, such as whether they can eat or drink beforehand.

A partial uvulectomy is an in-office procedure. People will have a local anesthetic, and a doctor will use radiofrequency or an electrical current to remove a section of the uvula and any excess tissues that may be blocking the airways.

The procedure is fairly quick, and people can usually return home afterward and continue their usual activities. A doctor may prescribe antibiotics to prevent infection.

People will have UPPP in the hospital. It involves altering the position of the uvula, palate, and walls of the throat to increase the size of the airways.

According to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS), recovery after uvula surgery may include the following:

  • drinking plenty of fluids
  • keeping the mouth clean through brushing the teeth and using mouthwash after meals
  • taking pain-relief medication as necessary
  • not driving until 48 hours after surgery
  • resuming other usual activities, such as sexual activity, whenever people feel they can
  • staying off work for 2 weeks
  • avoiding crowded places for 10 days to reduce the risk of infection
  • quitting smoking or limiting it for at least 2 weeks, where applicable
  • bathing and showering as usual

People may experience postoperative discomfort or pain for around 7 days after surgery. In some cases, it may take up to 2 weeks for pain to resolve.

People will need to follow the advice of their surgeon and healthcare team for recovery following uvula surgery.

Uvulectomy may cause the following side effects:

  • pain, which may increase for up to 7 days after surgery
  • pain that affects eating and drinking
  • bleeding

Possible side effects of UPPP may include:

UPPP may be a safe and effective treatment option for people with sleep apnea who are suitable for surgery and may help improve health and quality of life.

However, the success of uvula surgery may depend on the stage of sleep apnea a person has. A 2017 article published in The Laryngoscope describes various studies that have found higher success rates for milder degrees of sleep apnea.

The studies also suggested that high body mass index (BMI) and large tonsil size may negatively affect surgery outcomes. However, the studies either excluded people with a high BMI or did not consider BMI, so they have limited applicability.

The studies also lacked long-term clinical follow-up to assess the success of the surgery.

People will need to contact a doctor if they experience severe and worsening pain, which prevents them from eating and drinking.

If people have bleeding from the mouth after uvula surgery, they will need to seek medical attention immediately.

Uvula removal surgery removes part or all of the uvula to treat conditions such as sleep apnea, severe snoring, or hereditary angioneurotic edema.

A partial uvulectomy may be an in-office procedure, while a uvulopalatopharyngoplasty takes place in the hospital. Although these surgeries are quick to perform, recovery may take several weeks.

A person should contact their surgeon if their postoperative pain worsens after 7 days or they experience bleeding from the mouth.