Pharyngeal size in snorers, nonsnorers, and patients with obstructive sleep apnea

N Engl J Med. 1986 Nov 20;315(21):1327-31. doi: 10.1056/NEJM198611203152105.


We measured pharyngeal cross-sectional area and its change with alterations in lung volume in 10 subjects who snored and had obstructive sleep apnea, 6 subjects who snored and did not have obstructive sleep apnea, and 9 subjects who did not snore. Pharyngeal area was measured with use of an acoustic-reflection technique. We found that snorers with and without sleep apnea had a significantly smaller mean (+/- SE) pharyngeal cross-sectional area (4.1 +/- 0.2 and 3.7 +/- 0.9 cm2, respectively) at functional residual capacity than nonsnorers (5.4 +/- 0.5 cm2, P less than 0.025). When lung volume decreased from functional residual capacity to residual volume, both nonsnorers and snorers with sleep apnea had a decrease in pharyngeal area (from 5.4 +/- 0.5 to 4.5 +/- 0.4 cm2 and 4.1 +/- 0.2 to 3.4 +/- 0.2 cm2, respectively), whereas snorers without sleep apnea had no such decrease, suggesting that their pharynxes were less collapsible at low lung volumes. We conclude that snorers with and without sleep apnea have smaller pharyngeal cross-sectional areas than nonsnorers and that snorers with sleep apnea have a further decrease as lung volume falls.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Functional Residual Capacity
  • Humans
  • Lung Volume Measurements
  • Pharynx / pathology*
  • Sleep Apnea Syndromes / complications
  • Sleep Apnea Syndromes / pathology*
  • Sleep Apnea Syndromes / physiopathology
  • Snoring / complications
  • Snoring / pathology*
  • Snoring / physiopathology