An External Sign You May Have Sleep Apnea

Through various studies of the condition, doctors have identified signs of sleep apnea and the common risk factors associated with it. According to a research study completed by the University of Pennsylvania, the size of your tongue may be an indicator of sleep apnea. The study included MRI scans and 3-D reconstructions to compare the size of tongues from patients with and without sleep apnea. A larger tongue may be associated with more narrow upper airways and those with higher fat content were more likely to have sleep apnea. So, the next time you visit the doctor, you might want to discuss the size of your tongue and its impact on your breathing and sleeping.

When sleep apnea was first discovered and began to be studied, one of the first avenues of study identified by physicians was the assessment of the anatomy of the upper airway and throat. The anatomy of this area is thought to impact the way people sleep. Now, there have been multiple risk factors studied and identified to be associated with sleep apnea. For example, obesity is a major risk factor for sleep apnea.

The study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania considered the tongues of obese people with and without sleep apnea. Those with sleep apnea were more likely to have a tongue with a higher fat content. The author of the study, Dr. Richard J. Schwab, says, “Most doctors look at the tongue for redness or signs of infection. But once you start looking at size, it’s easy.” It was also found that more tongue fat was concentrated near the back of the mouth in patients with sleep apnea.

More than 15 million Americans are affected by sleep apnea. This very treatable sleep disorder has warning signs such as snoring, choking, and gasping during sleep. Often, it is the partners of patients that notice sleep apnea because they hear their loved one struggle during the night. Now we can add a fat tongue to the list of signs says Dr. Schwab, “Tongue size is one of the physical features that should be evaluated by a physician when screening obese patients to determine their risk for obstructive sleep apnea.”

As with any study, there is an opportunity for future assessment of these results by examining the effectiveness of getting rid of tongue fat by losing weight, through surgery, and even airway exercises. FusionSleep in Atlanta is a sleep clinic with the expertise to evaluate your sleep and diagnose any sleep disorders you may have. Luckily, we can treat most conditions and help you prevent future health problems caused by bad sleep.