Posture-dependent change of tracheal sounds at standardized flows in patients with obstructive sleep apnea

H Pasterkamp, J Schäfer, G R Wodicka
Chest 1996, 110 (6): 1493-8

BACKGROUND: The ability of awake subjects with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) to dilate their pharynx during inspiration may be defective. Airflow through a relatively more narrow pharyngeal passage should lead to increased flow turbulence and hence to louder respiratory sounds. We therefore studied the increase of tracheal sound intensity (TSI) in the supine position as an indicator of abnormal pharyngeal dynamics in patients with documented OSA.

SUBJECTS AND METHODS: Sound was recorded with a contact sensor at the suprasternal notch in 7 patients with OSA (age, 52 +/- 8 years; body mass index, 29.0 +/- 3; apnea-hypopnea index, 58 +/- 17; means +/- SD), and in 8 control subjects, including obese subjects and snorers (age, 39 +/- 8 years; body mass index, 28.6 +/- 4). Subjects breathed through a pneumotachograph and aimed at target flows of 1.5 to 2 L/s, first sitting, then supine. Flow and sound signals were digitized at a 10-KHz rate. Fourier analysis was applied to sounds within the target flow range and average power spectra were obtained. Spectral power was calculated for frequency bands 0.2 to 1, 1 to 2, and 2 to 3 KHz.

RESULTS: In the supine position, OSA patients had a significantly greater increase of inspiratory TSI than control subjects: 7.5 +/- 1.2 dB vs 1.7 +/- 3.4 dB (p < 0.001); 6.6 +/- 1.7 dB vs 1.3 +/- 3.9 dB (p < 0.005); and 12.2 +/- 3.2 dB vs 5.6 +/- 3.1 dB (p < 0.001) at low, medium, and high frequencies, respectively. Expiratory TSI also increased in supine subjects, but the change was significantly greater in OSA subjects only at high frequencies. These findings confirm our earlier observations that did not include obese subjects or snorers among control subjects.

SUMMARY: Measuring posture effects on tracheal sounds is noninvasive and requires little time and effort. The greater increase of inspiratory TSI in supine OSA patients compared to subjects without OSA suggests a potential value for daytime acoustic screening.

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