A recent research shows that obesity and fat in the tongue can serve as part of diagnosis and treatment for Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). Scientists from Penn Medicine found that obese adults with sleep apnea had significantly greater tongue volumes, tongue fat and percentage of tongue fat compared to obese individuals without sleep apnea.

According to the study, the increase in body fat does not only affect tongue size but more importantly decreases the force of the tongue and prevents it from functioning as an upper airway dilator muscle effectively, resulting to sleep apnea.

What is Sleep Apnea?

Affecting 22 million Americans , sleep apnea is a dangerous condition when breathing stops and starts during sleep. OSA, the most common type of sleep apnea, makes your breathing stops as the soft tissue in the back of your throat collapses and briefly closes the airway.

Other symptoms of sleep apnea are snoring, choking, gasping, sleeping persistently during the day, waking up on the morning with dry mouth or headache.

Aside from its bothersome symptoms, this sleep disorder is dangerous to health as it is linked to high blood pressure, stroke, depression, diabetes, heart disease, and even concentration difficulties. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, excess body weight is the major predisposing factor for OSA.

What can you do to manage sleep apnea?

According to the research, the more tongue fat you lose when you trim overall body fat, the more the sleep apnea of patients may improve. This finding may open up new ways to treat the sleeping disorder by focusing on reducing tongue size.

Currently, the treatment option for OSA is the Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) therapy. While it is known effectively help sleep apnea patients, CPAP therapy has irritating side effects like congestion, nosebleeds, and runny nose.

Although further study is needed to support this latest discovery, the correlation between tongue fat, tongue volume, and OSA can be the first signal for people with sleep apnea to reduce their weight and pursue a more active lifestyle in an effort to sleep better at night.