Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty – the Fairbanks technique

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Chapter 31 Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty – the Fairbanks technique


Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP) is generally both safe and effective as a surgical treatment for non-obese patients who suffer with mild to moderate sleep apnea and severe snoring. This refinement in surgical technique1 employs strategies for avoidance of complications and improvement of efficacy. Palatal dysfunction is avoided by minimization of soft palate shortening in the midline (uvula) area. Nasopharyngeal stenosis is avoided by minimization of posterior pillar resection and avoidance of pharyngeal undermining. Effectiveness of surgery is improved when emphasis is placed on opening the nasopharynx widely in the lateral port areas. Also, tissue removal deep in the inferior tonsillar poles (and hypopharynx) with mucosal advancement and suturing is emphasized.


Prophylactic antimicrobials (with anaerobic activity) are initiated 1 hour before surgery, with intravenous ampicillin/sulbactam (Unasyn 3 g) or clindamycin (900 mg).A preoperative corticosteroid intravenous injection is also given (Solu-Medrol 125 mg or dexametasone 10–15 mg). Preoperative sedatives are avoided because obstructive sleep apnea patients are often over-reactive to them and airway crisis may occur. Likewise, an anesthesiologist should be selected who is well aware of the compromised status of the airway in such patients. The orally intubated and anesthetized patient is placed in the head-extended supine position with the Crowe–Davis tonsillectomy mouth gag and the Ring tongue blade in place.

The areas to be surgically excised are injected with small amounts of epinephrine 1:100,000 solution (usually provided in 1% lidocaine). This is to promote hemostasis and is done by prior agreement with the anesthesiologist, who selects an appropriate inhalation agent.

The mucosa on either side of the uvula is clamped with hemostats and then incised in an oblique direction as in Figure 31.1. This severs the drooping mucosal web between the uvula and the posterior pillar, increases the mobility of the pillar, prevents soft palatal scar contraction (with ‘tethering’), and incises some of the lowermost fibers of the nasopharyngeal sphincter. Typically, the low-hanging soft palate of an apnea patient contains few muscular fibers of the nasopharyngeal sphincter.

The palatopharyngeal incision is designed as three sides of a rectangle, as in Figure 31.2. It begins at the base of the tongue lateral to the inferior tonsillar pole and extends cephalad in the sulcus or angle formed between the internal surface of the mandible and the anterior tonsillar pillar. At about 1 cm above the level of the trailing edge of the soft palate, the incision makes a 90 angle, transverses the soft palate horizontally, then angles 90 downward again symmetrical to the opposite side. The ideal level for the horizontal palatal incision is at the location of the palatal ‘dimple’ as described by Dickson.4

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