The association of tongue scalloping with obstructive sleep apnea and related sleep pathology

Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2005 Dec;133(6):966-71. doi: 10.1016/j.otohns.2005.07.018.


Objective: The association between OSAS and patient history and physical exam findings is previously established; however, to our knowledge there are no studies that evaluate the role of tongue scalloping as a reliable clinical indicator for OSA, snoring, or the presence of other sleep pathology as evidenced by polysomnography. This study evaluates the hypothesis that such an association exists.

Subjects and methods: Sixty-one otolaryngology clinic patients were evaluated by history and physical exam for the presence and degree of tongue scalloping, snoring, and other previously established clinical indicators for sleep-disordered breathing and obstructive apnea. Twenty-five of the 61 study patients were additionally evaluated by overnight polysomnography to provide conclusive diagnosis of sleep pathology. The degree of tongue scalloping was graded from 0 to 3 and its significance as a screening, diagnostic, and predictive factor for sleep pathology was then statistically determined.

Results: Twenty-seven patients (44%) had known or newly documented OSA and 47 (77%) had a history of snoring. Twenty-seven patients (44%) had some degree of tongue scalloping (1-3) and 74% of these patients were male. The presence of any degree of tongue scalloping (grade 1-3) in patients with known or newly documented OSA showed sensitivity, specificity, PPV, and NPV of 52%, 68%, 70%, and 50% respectively. The presence of tongue scalloping in patients with either known snoring history or newly documented snoring showed sensitivity, specificity, PPV, and NPV of 47%, 64%, 81%, and 26% respectively. Presence of tongue scalloping was 71% specific for abnormal sleep efficiency (<85%), 70% specific for abnormal AHI (>5), and 86% specific for nocturnal desaturation >4% below baseline. Presence of tongue scalloping also showed PPV of 67% for abnormal AHI, 89% for apnea or hypopnea, and 89% for nocturnal desaturation. Presence and severity of tongue scalloping showed positive correlation with increasing Mallampati and modified Mallampati airway classification.

Conclusions: In high-risk patients we found tongue scalloping to be predictive of sleep pathology. Tongue scalloping was also associated with pathologic polysomnography data and abnormal Mallampati grades. We feel the finding of tongue scalloping is a useful clinical indicator of sleep pathology and that its presence should prompt the physician to inquire about snoring history.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Disease Progression
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Polysomnography
  • Prognosis
  • Risk Factors
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Sleep / physiology*
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / diagnosis
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / etiology*
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / physiopathology
  • Snoring / complications
  • Snoring / diagnosis
  • Snoring / physiopathology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Tongue, Hairy / complications*
  • Tongue, Hairy / diagnosis
  • Tongue, Hairy / physiopathology