Airway evaluation in obstructive sleep apnea

Sleep Med Rev. 2008 Dec;12(6):411-36. doi: 10.1016/j.smrv.2007.08.009. Epub 2007 Nov 28.


As the interest in sleep-disordered breathing has increased, various attempts have been made to assess upper airway anatomy in patients with this relatively frequent disorder. The aim is not only to reveal potential differences in upper airway anatomy to better understand origin and pathophysiology of the disease but also to improve patient management and treatment success. The present review is based on a systematic literature search with regard to upper airway evaluation in sleep-disordered breathing; the articles were selected and discussed in light of our clinical experiences. Based on clinical assessment including endoscopy during wakefulness, the value of the Mueller Maneuver, static radiologic imaging techniques (X-ray cephalometry, computed tomography (CT) scanning and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)), dynamic scanning protocols (e.g. ultrafast CT or cine MRI), upper airway endoscopy during sleep and sedated sleep, pressure measurements and the assessment of the critical closing pressure are discussed. Each technique itself and its history in the field of sleep medicine are briefly reviewed and problems of standardization and interpretation are discussed when appropriate. Insights into the pathophysiology of the disease gained with the help of the investigational techniques are presented and the impact of the techniques on patient management is reported. Although all these additional techniques for upper airway assessment have substantially improved our understanding of sleep-disordered breathing, their significance in daily practice is limited. In contrast to the widespread use of the Mueller maneuver and sedated endoscopy, convincing data supporting their use in terms of treatment outcome are lacking. So far, there is only very limited evidence that selected techniques improve treatment outcome for selected indications. In general, there is not enough evidence that these techniques are superior to the routine clinical assessment.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Airway Obstruction / diagnosis*
  • Airway Obstruction / physiopathology
  • Airway Obstruction / therapy
  • Airway Resistance / physiology
  • Child
  • Diagnostic Imaging
  • Endoscopy
  • Epiglottis / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Hypopharynx / physiopathology
  • Oropharynx / physiopathology
  • Palate, Soft / physiopathology
  • Pharynx / physiopathology
  • Polysomnography
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / diagnosis*
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / physiopathology
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / therapy
  • Snoring / physiopathology