Tube law of the pharyngeal airway in sleeping patients with obstructive sleep apnea

Pedro R. Genta, Bradley A. Edwards, Scott A. Sands, Robert L. Owens, James P. Butler, Stephen H. Loring, David P. White, Andrew Wellman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


Study Objectives: Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is characterized by repetitive pharyngeal collapse during sleep. However, the dynamics of pharyngeal narrowing and re-expansion during flow-limited breathing are not well described. The static pharyngeal tube law (end-expiratory area versus luminal pressure) has demonstrated increasing pharyngeal compliance as luminal pressure decreases, indicating that the airway would be sucked closed with sufficient inspiratory effort. On the contrary, the airway is rarely sucked closed during inspiratory flow limitation, suggesting that the airway is getting stiffer. Therefore, we hypothesized that during inspiratory flow limitation, as opposed to static conditions, the pharynx becomes stiffer as luminal pressure decreases. Methods: Upper airway endoscopy and simultaneous measurements of airflow and epiglottic pressure were performed during natural nonrapid eye movement sleep. Continuous positive (or negative) airway pressure was used to induce flow limitation. Flow-limited breaths were selected for airway cross-sectional area measurements. Relative airway area was quantified as a percentage of end-expiratory area. Inspiratory airway radial compliance was calculated at each quintile of epiglottic pressure versus airway area plot (tube law). Results: Eighteen subjects (14 males) with OSA (apnea-hypopnea index = 57 ± 27 events/h), aged 49 ± 8 y, with a body mass index of 35 ± 6 kg/m2 were studied. A total of 163 flow limited breaths were analyzed (9 ± 3 breaths per subject). Compliances at the fourth (2.0 ± 4.7 % area/cmH2O) and fifth (0.0 ± 1.7 % area/cmH2O) quintiles were significantly lower than the first (12.2 ± 5.5 % area/cmH2O) pressure quintile (P <0.05). Conclusions: The pharyngeal tube law is concave (airway gets stiffer as luminal pressure decreases) during respiratory cycles under inspiratory flow limitation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)337-343
Number of pages7
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2016


  • Flow limitation
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Pharyngeal mechanics

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