Did you know that your tongue can give away a lot of information regarding sleep apnea? You’ll be amazed how simply taking a peek at your tongue in a mirror can reveal so much!

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The image on the left displays a healthy, regular tongue. Some normal features of a tongue are:

– Smooth edges
– Free motion
– Slightly red in color
– Soft texture
– No lumps or bumps
– Thin white coating

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The image on the right shows a tongue with numerous indentations. The term used for this is “scalloping.” This is caused by the tongue sitting against the molars. If your tongue has “scalloping”, it might mean that your tongue is too large, and could be causing – or at least contributing to – your sleep apnea (see Moderate Treatment #6 Sleep Apnea Exercises for what can be done to naturally reduce tongue size).
Other signs to look for are:
– A palate that’s high-arched.
– A jawline that’s smaller than average.
– A high-sitting tongue.
Grab a mirror and try looking at the back of your throat. If you can’t see the back of your throat clearly – your tongue’s sitting high.

 

Flabby Throat Tissue
Nobody appreciates being called overweight – people simply don’t like to admit that they may have an issue with their size. However, just because you have excess flabby tissue around the throat area doesn’t necessarily mean you’re overweight. That’s the most common reason for the excess flab – but not the only one. Aging can also contribute to excess flabby throat tissue. As we age our skin naturally loses its elasticity, and this presents us with loose, flabby folds of skin.

 

3This picture shows two differently built women. The woman on the right is slighter than the woman on the left. You can observe the excess flabby tissue on the bigger woman – around her throat.

The muscles here will be weak. They’re not toned and strong – as the slighter built woman’s are. The weakened muscles can collapse on themselves.

When this occurs during sleep, the airway can easily become completely blocked off. Strengthening and toning the throat muscles will help sleep apnea sufferers (again, see Moderate Treatment #6 Sleep Apnea Exercises for an explanation of effective exercises).

Elongated Soft Palate

The soft palate is composed of muscle fibers. The fibers are encased in mucous membranes. The job of the soft palate is to shut off the nasal passages when a person swallows.

If the soft palate is longer than average, it’ll narrow the gap leading from the nose to the throat, which can block a person’s airway. The extra length can also be the cause of snoring. It becomes a noisy, fluttering valve during a relaxed state of breathing.

adsfadsfadThe image on the left displays an elongated soft palate. The palate is resting on the tongue’s base, indicated by the white arrows. This blocks off the airway. You can observe in a mirror whether you have an elongated soft palate. Open your mouth wide; stick your tongue out and downward. Look at the back of your mouth. On either side of the uvula (the dangly thing in the middle of your throat) there should be a good clearance. If there’s little or no noticeable gap, then the chances are good that your soft palate is elongated.

Enlarged Ovula

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The uvula is the cone shaped tissue that hangs down from the soft palate. Its function is to work in conjunction with the soft palate. During swallowing they both prevent any food entering the nasal passages.

The image on the right shows a larger than normal uvula (marked by the large arrow). The uvula is resting on the base of the tongue. Like the elongated soft palate, an enlarged uvula can restrict normal airflow by creating a blockage. The airway is much more likely to be closed off if the person has an enlarged uvula. The added size of the uvula often contributes to snoring. Just like the elongated soft palate – it becomes a fluttering, noisy valve when the breathing is relaxed.

Enlarged Tonsils

Enlarged (also called “hypertrophic”) tonsils are generally seen in children – but adults can also suffer this condition. The tonsils are so swollen and large that they obstruct breathing. Swallowing can also be difficult. The image above, of the enlarged uvula, also displays hypertrophic tonsils (marked by the two small arrows on the left and right).

Along with the other two conditions mentioned above, the diagnosis for enlarged tonsils is often visual. The tonsils will be especially pronounced and naturally bulging out. They can be so enlarged that they may touch one another.

Home Diagnostic Tests

Two home diagnostic tests exist for sleep apnea. One tests for oxygen levels within the blood, and the other collects events occurring during sleep, known as “sleep data.”

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The oximetry (oxygen levels) test involves the sleeper wearing a clamp on his or her finger (available at wrist pulse oximeter for about $600 – but often on sale. If the oxygen levels read low during sleep, this is an indication of sleep apnea.

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The at home sleep apnea testing device (similar price range as the wrist pulse oximeter) requires the sleeper to wear sensors.

The sensors are usually connected to the person’s finger, chest and breath.

Data collected includes respiratory episodes, intensity of snoring, pulse rate, and blood oxygen saturation.

Polysomnography

If you’re not convinced about a home test for sleep apnea, the next step would be a polysomnography. This is a full apnea sleep study. The study is performed in a hospital/clinic setting. 

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A polysomnography collects numerous aspects of sleep data. The diagram at right shows some of the data captured during the sleep study.

Aspects of sleep that the study follows include:

  • Eye movement – to detect REM sleep.
  • Heart rate – an electrocardiogram is used for this.
  • Chin movement – the movement within the chin muscle is measured; the movement is an indication that the upper airway muscles have been stimulated.
  • Limb movement – detectors positioned on the shins read muscle movement. Leg movement is a sign of disturbed sleep.
  • Brain activity – sticky pads attached to the scalp and face capture brain activity during sleep.
  • Respiratory effort – measured via elastic belts positioned around the chest and abdomen.

Many hospitals and clinics house a separate “sleep clinic.” Individuals working within the clinic are experts in the field of sleep. If a polysomnography is recommended, don’t panic. You’ll be well cared for – the equipment may appear alarming but you’ll be comfortable and experience no pain.

All that’s asked of you is to sleep! The monitors will do the rest.

To find a sleep center in your neighborhood that does sleep studies, go to this website.

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