Engineers Study the Fluid Dynamics of Snoring, Sleep Apnea

Snoring is a problem in fluid dynamics. At least, that’s how one engineer at the University of Virginia is approaching it. The problem is turbulence, so it’s perfectly logical that Haibo Dong, a professor in aerospace engineering, should be able to provide some important insight into the issue.

Dong and his students have looked in detail at the way fluid flows in the throats of people with normal breathing, snoring, or sleep apnea. Their goal is to understand how the fluid dynamics of the throat work, which could allow them to separate simple snoring from sleep apnea sooner, and help them to design more effective sleep apnea treatments.

Man laying on his side with mouth wide open. The fluid in his throat might be causing his snoring

Imaging Fluid in the Throat

Usually, people associate snoring with the sound of it. Very few people really had a sense of what snoring looks like, how it occurs in the throat. That’s why Dong and his team decided to try to capture images of people’s full airways, including the nostrils, mouth, and throat. They used a variety of tools, including CT scans and MRI imaging to construct detailed 3D representations of the space.

Then they used airflow simulations similar to those that predict how air will move over an aircraft in flight, without having to trust a model of the aircraft in a wind tunnel. This airflow simulation showed how the air passed through the airway, including when it started to grow turbulent, leading to vibrations that cause sound. They showed that in a normal, wide open airway, there is practically no turbulence.

They also showed that as snoring increases in intensity it can itself exert force on the airway, pulling it closed. Thus, snoring and sleep apnea aren’t just sequential features of an obstructed airway: snoring can actually contribute to the development of sleep apnea.

More Effective Solutions

Dong hopes that this imaging could eventually lead to more effective treatments for snoring and sleep apnea. After all, he says, current solutions were designed before people really understood how the airflow was affected by the various parts of the airway.

In particular, he notes that sleep apnea and snoring surgery, currently so unreliable, could be made more effective by designing a truly efficient airway instead of trying to simply remove apparent obstructions. He also talked about smart devices such as a form of smart CPAP that could activate when needed, or smart beds that can angle the body and head to reduce snoring or sleep apnea.

However, he didn’t note the potential benefit to oral appliance therapy. By better understanding the way the jaw contributes to turbulent airflow, we could provide better fitting and adjustment of these appliances.

Looking for an Effective Snoring Treatment in NJ?

Many people think that there’re no good snoring treatments available. However, that’s not true. Oral appliances are already very effective at treating snoring–and sleep apnea. By repositioning your jaw, they remove some of the obstructions that cause turbulent airflow, which allows you to breathe more easily at night. And when you breathe easier, everyone around you gets a chance to sleep better, too.

To learn more about oral appliance therapy and how it could potentially help you, please call 201-546-8512 today for an appointment with Riveredge sleep dentist Dr. Marlen Martirossian at the River Edge Dental Center for TMJ, Sleep Apnea, & Reconstructive Dentistry.

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