Sleep Apnea Surgery: How to Prepare

Surgery for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) requires some advance preparation. The various surgical options can involve the nose, soft palate, tongue, and/or jaw. Sometimes, a device—like the Inspire hypoglossal nerve stimulator—may be implanted during surgery.

How should someone prepare for sleep apnea surgery? Learn about where OSA surgery takes place, what to wear and bring, and the adjustments you need to make in terms of food and drink or pre-operative medications.

Preparing for sleep apnea surgery
XiXinXing / Getty Images 

Location

If you are having a relatively minor OSA surgery, you might have your procedure in the otorhinolaryngology (ear, nose, and throat, or ENT) clinic procedure room. Some procedures are done in a procedural suite that's prepared with special equipment, and some are done in an operating room.

Examples include:

  • Adults who are having uncomplicated removal of turbinates with radiofrequency ablation might have the procedure in the clinic procedure suite.
  • Sleep endoscopy, which can assess risk factors prior to placement of the Inspire device, may be done in the endoscopy suite with sedation.
  • Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (soft palate surgery) is usually done with general anesthesia in an operating room that's located in a medical center or hospital.

What to Wear

You should wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothing when you arrive at the clinic or hospital for your surgical procedure. Leave any unneeded valuables at home, including jewelry, watches, smartphones, and other electronics. 

Bring any necessary aids for your vision or hearing. Don't wear contact lenses, and bring your glasses instead. If you need to bring hearing aids, have a case with your name ad contact information to place them in. These items will be collected prior to your surgery, and they will be returned to you when you wake up in the recovery room.

Prior to your surgery, you will change into a hospital gown and sterile socks. You will be able to change back into your clothes 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 you are NPO (don't eat or drink anything) for 12 hours before surgery if you are going to be having general anesthesia. This prevents the reflux of food or liquids from the stomach that may potentially enter the lungs, causing dangerous aspiration.

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 the potential risks associated with prolonged fasting. 

If you have to take medication in the 12 hours before your surgery, your doctor might permit you to take them with a very small sip of water. Your surgeon and anesthesiologist will let you know in advance whether it is safe and necessary for you to do so. If you aren't sure if you should take a specific medication, you should call ahead and ask in advance.

It may also be recommended that you avoid caffeine and alcohol for longer than 12 hours before your surgery. Discuss the requirements with your surgeon in advance to avoid having your procedure canceled and rescheduled.

Medications

Before your sleep apnea surgery, your doctor would want to make sure that you have surgically treatable OSA—because there are other types of sleep apnea as well.

And you might have a trial of treatment for OSA before you and your doctor decide that surgery is the best option for you. For example, you might use a nasal steroid spray (such as fluticasone) for a month to see if your symptoms improve. When non-surgical therapy is not effective, surgery may be considered.

Before your surgery, your doctor may recommend that you stop taking any blood thinners that you normally take for several days. Doses of other medications that affect your cardiovascular function might be adjusted.

To optimize your safety and to avoid potential delay of your procedure, review your complete medication list, including any vitamins or supplements, with your surgeon so you will know which medications you should stop, when to take your last dose before surgery, and when to restart.

What to Bring

Bring all relevant medical insurance and personal identification cards when you arrive for your surgery.

Don’t forget to bring an updated list of prescription and over-the-counter medications.

Make sure you have someone who can drive you home after surgery is done.

If you're undergoing a procedure that may require an overnight stay in the hospital, consider bringing toiletries that you would want to have with you. 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 before your sleep apnea surgery, some lifestyle changes may help optimize your outcome.

Beneficial lifestyle changes include:

  • Smoking cessation: Smoking has an adverse effect on surgical outcomes, and quitting may reduce the risk of complications during your surgery, decrease your infection risk, and enhance post-operative healing.
  • Weight loss: Being overweight worsens snoring and sleep apnea, and weight loss helps. Targeting a 10% loss of body weight may be beneficial if you are overweight or obese.
  • Allergy treatment: If nasal congestion from allergies worsens your breathing, medications may help. Oral pills, nasal steroid sprays, and even saline sprays or rinses may improve your breathing during sleep.

If you are 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. Some of the steps outlined above will help you get ready for your 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, rather than at the last minute. This will help ensure that your needs are met and that the surgery moves forward without any unnecessary delays.

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