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Upper airway imaging in obstructive sleep apnea in adults

Richard J Schwab, MD
Section Editor
Nancy Collop, MD
Deputy Editor
Geraldine Finlay, MD


Upper airway imaging is currently not part of the routine diagnostic evaluation for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) because it can neither confirm nor exclude the disorder. Despite this, it has several roles:

Upper airway imaging provides information about soft tissue and craniofacial anatomy, which has provided important insights into the pathogenesis of OSA [1-7]. Upper airway imaging can also identify anatomic risk factors for sleep apnea such as enlargement of upper airway soft tissue structures [7], tongue fat [8], and reduction in the size of craniofacial structures [9].

Upper airway imaging can be clinically useful in patients with OSA who are imaged to identify potential sites of upper airway obstruction prior to surgical intervention, although validation of this approach has not been addressed with well-performed clinical trials.

Upper airway imaging may discover pathologic masses or growths that reduce upper airway size, leading to OSA.

The methods of upper airway imaging and the clinical settings in which upper airway imaging may be helpful are reviewed here. The diagnostic evaluation of OSA is described separately. (See "Clinical presentation and diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea in adults".)


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Literature review current through: Sep 2016. | This topic last updated: Aug 12, 2016.
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