The importance of the upper airway (nose, pharynx, and larynx) in health and in the pathogenesis of sleep apnea, asthma, and other airway diseases, discussed elsewhere in the Comprehensive Physiology series, prompts this review of the biomechanical properties and functional aspects of the upper airway. There is a literature based on anatomic or structural descriptions in static circumstances, albeit studied in limited numbers of individuals in both health and disease. As for dynamic features, the literature is limited to studies of pressure and flow through all or parts of the upper airway and to the effects of muscle activation on such features; however, the links between structure and function through airway size, shape, and compliance remain a topic that is completely open for investigation, particularly through analyses using concepts of fluid and structural mechanics. Throughout are included both historically seminal references, as well as those serving as signposts or updated reviews. This article should be considered a resource for concepts needed for the application of biomechanical models of upper airway physiology, applicable to understanding the pathophysiology of disease and anticipated results of treatment interventions.
© 2012 American Physiological Society. Compr Physiol 2:1853-1872, 2012.