Larger, fattier tongues found to be affecting obstructive sleep apnoea

January 13, 2020

Researchers have singled out an unexpected cause for sleep apnoea – fatty tongues. Sleep apnoea is a disorder which can leave people snoring loudly and gasping for breath at night, exacerbated by the amount of fat on their tongues.Though when sleep apnoea patients lost weight the reduction in tongue fat resulted in vast improvements, according to researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine (Perelman), University of Pennsylvania, US. The researchers observed 67 obese patients who were diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnoea – characterised by blocked airways which disrupts breathing and sleep – and were able to lose 10% of their body weight.

By looking at the size of patients’ upper airway structures, the weight loss led to a reduction in the size of a jaw muscle that controls chewing and muscles on either side of the airway, thus improving symptoms by 30%.

“Now that we know tongue fat is a risk factor – the less fat there is, the less likely the tongue is to collapse during sleep,” said study author Dr. Richard Schwab, of Perelman School of Medicine, Philadelphia.

While weight loss is important to reduce upper airway narrowing,the researchers plan to work out which low-fat diets are particularly good at slimming down the tongue.

However, Dr. Nick Hopkinson, Director at the British Lung Foundation, is yet convinced of “any immediate practical implications for people with the condition.”More serious symptoms may need treatment from a sleep clinic, including the use of a CPAP machine, which gently pumps air into a mask over the mouth and nose during sleep, holding the airways open.

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Category: Education, Features

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