A recent study suggests that the fat content of one’s tongue may be a contributing factor in the development of obstructive sleep apnea (or OSA). The study, which was published on October 1 in the journal Sleep, involved 180 obese adults, half of whom suffered from sleep apnea and half who did not; the study participants who had sleep apnea possessed significantly larger tongues, tongue fat and percentage of tongue fat than those who did not. The researchers behind the study hypothesized that a fattier tongue may be less likely to position away from the airway during sleep. Obesity has long been suspected of being a contributing factor in OSA; this study may add tongue size or “fatness” as a new risk factor.
Although the study found that tongue fatness is positively correlated with OSA – that is, those with fatty tongues were more likely to have sleep apnea – it did not establish a cause-and-effect relationship. The study did not prove that having a large tongue necessarily or inevitably leads to the development of OSA, even though the evidence presented in the study provides at least some support for such an inference.
Even though no causal relationship could be determined, the physicians who authored the study still believed that tongue size should be one of the features evaluated when assessing the risk of sleep apnea in obese patients. Given the toll that sleep apnea can take on an individual’s life, addressing tongue size is a wise precautionary measure, even in the absence of causality.
Then why CPAP machine is useful to sleep apnea patients? The Continuous Positive Airway Pressure will keep the airway open, so no more snores.