Sleep Apnea Surgery: How to Prepare

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Surgery for obstructive sleep apnea may require some preparation in order to optimize the experience. There are various surgery options, including those affecting the nose, soft palate, tongue, and jaw. There are even devices—like the Inspire hypoglossal nerve stimulator—that may be implanted through surgery.

How should someone prepare for sleep apnea surgery? Discover some of the basic considerations, including where surgery most often occurs, what to wear or bring, and the possible changes affecting the timing of consuming food and drink or taking medications.

Preparing for sleep apnea surgery
XiXinXing / Getty Images 

Location

If relatively minor, obstructive sleep apnea surgery may be performed in an otorhinolaryngology (ear, nose, and throat, or ENT) clinic’s procedure room. As an example, the uncomplicated removal of turbinates with radiofrequency ablation within the nose of an adult may be performed in this setting.

Some procedures, such as sleep endoscopy to assess risk factors prior to placement of the Inspire device, may be done in the endoscopy suite with sedation. More often, sleep apnea surgery is done under general anesthesia in a typical operating room in a medical center or hospital.

There will usually be a reclining chair or operating table centered in the room for the patient to sit or lie on. It is possible for someone undergoing surgery to fall asleep in a standard hospital bed, or gurney, and to later be transferred to the operating table once unconscious.

There are often instrument tables, displays to monitor vital signs, an intravenous (IV) pole, and other medical equipment needed to complete the surgery all located within the operating room.

What to Wear

As with any surgery, it is advised that patients wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothing as they arrive at the clinic or hospital where the surgical procedure is being performed. Leave any unneeded valuables at home, including valuable jewelry such as rings, necklaces, bracelets, watches, smartphones, and other electronics. 

Bring any necessary aids to vision or hearing. It is important to remove contact lenses and wear glasses. If hearing aids are needed, bring a case to place them in that is labeled with the patient’s name and basic contact information. These should be collected prior to surgery and returned upon awakening in the recovery room.

Prior to surgery, patients undergoing surgery for sleep apnea will usually change into a hospital gown and sterile socks. After the surgery is completed, upon waking in the recovery room or at the time of discharge from the hospital, the patient will change back into the clothes they have worn to go home. This is why it is important to arrive in comfortable clothing.

Food and Drink

As a general rule, it is advised that patients not eat or drink anything, potentially for as long as 12 hours, during the time prior to check-in for a surgery that requires general anesthesia and is performed in an operating room. This is often referred to as “being NPO,” the abbreviation for a Latin phrase, nil per os, or literally “nothing through the mouth.”

Newer guidelines suggest six to eight hours may be a sufficient amount of fasting prior to having anesthesia administered, and that clear liquids could be consumed two hours prior to surgery, including:

  • Water
  • Fruit juice without pulp
  • Carbonated beverages
  • Clear tea
  • Black coffee

These recommendations are to prevent the reflux of food or liquids from the stomach that may potentially enter the lungs, causing aspiration and potentially affecting oxygen levels. This could potentially lead to fatal complications.

Due to their higher metabolic rates, children will usually have surgery scheduled earlier in the day. Patients with diabetes may also have a priority due to their potential risks associated with prolonged fasting. 

If medications must be taken, it may be possible to take them with a very small sip of water. This should be discussed with the surgeon and anesthesiologist prior to the procedure to ensure that it is safe to do so. If a patient is not certain if a medication can be taken, it is best to call ahead and ask before the day of surgery.

It is also best to avoid the consumption of caffeine and alcohol prior to the surgery. Discuss the requirements with the surgeon prior to the day of the surgery to avoid the procedure being canceled and rescheduled.

Medications

Prior to proceeding with a sleep apnea surgery, new medications may be trialed by the surgeon to gauge improvement. As an example, it may be necessary to try a nasal steroid spray (such as fluticasone) for a month to see if it improves symptoms prior to undergoing surgery. The failure of medical therapy may provide justification and allow insurance coverage of the surgery.

In most cases, medications should be stopped at least two hours prior to check-in for a sleep apnea surgery. In some cases, medications may need to be stopped for a longer period, including blood thinners and potentially other medications that may affect cardiovascular function.

To optimize safety and to avoid potential delay of the procedure, review your complete medication list with your surgeon and determine which medications may need to be stopped and when the last dose should be taken.

What to Bring

As with any visit to a clinic or hospital appointment, it is important to bring all relevant medical insurance and personal identification cards.

Don’t forget an updated list of prescription and over-the-counter medications, including any vitamins or supplements. In some cases, it may be easier to bring the pill bottles in to ensure the names, strengths, and dosing are accurate. 

As a general rule, another adult should accompany the patient to drive them home after the surgery is done, especially if any anesthesia or sedating medications are administered. This companion will usually be the responsible party for discharge instructions and may monitor the patient for at least 24 hours after leaving the clinic or hospital.

For those undergoing a procedure that may require an overnight stay in the hospital, consider bringing needed toiletries that may not be available. Prescription medications will be provided in the hospital and should be administered by the nursing staff for tracking purposes.

Pre-Op Lifestyle Changes

Although specific lifestyle changes may not be required to undergo sleep apnea surgery, they may nevertheless be helpful. Consider these examples:

  • Smoking: Cessation of smoking may reduce complications during surgery (due to optimized heart and lung function), reduce infection risk, and enhance post-operative healing.
  • Weight loss: Almost as a rule, weight gain makes snoring and sleep apnea worse, and weight loss helps. Targeting a 10% loss of body weight may be beneficial if someone is overweight or obese.
  • Allergy treatment: If nasal congestion from allergies worsens breathing, medications may help. Oral pills, nasal steroid sprays, and even saline sprays or rinses may all have a role to improve breathing in sleep.

If curious as to what lifestyle changes may be helpful, speak with the surgeon about the best options.

A Word From Verywell

Preparing for sleep apnea surgery may feel a little intimidating. Fortunately, some of the thoughtful steps as outlined above will ensure that you are fully ready for the surgery.

If you have additional questions, or wonder about your specific situation and what preparation is needed, call the surgeon’s office prior to the day of the procedure. This will ensure that your needs are met and that the surgery moves forward without any unnecessary delays.

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  2. Nason KS. Acute intraoperative pulmonary aspirationThorac Surg Clin. 2015;25(3):301-307. doi:10.1016/j.thorsurg.2015.04.011

  3. Guerra J and Chaib F. Smoking greatly increases risk of complications after surgery. World Health Organization. January 20, 2020.