Effect of inspiratory nasal loading on pharyngeal resistance

K. Gleeson, C. W. Zwillich, T. W. Bendrick, D. P. White


Nasal obstruction has been shown to increase the number of apneas during sleep in normal subjects and in some may actually cause the sleep apnea syndrome. We postulated that the pharynx may act as a Starling resistor, where increases in negative inspiratory pressure result in elevated resistance across a collapsible pharyngeal segment. To test this theory in normal subjects we studied 10 men and 10 women during wakefulness. Pharyngeal resistance (the resistance across the airway segment between the choanae and the epiglottis) was determined in the normal state and with three inspiratory loads added externally. Flow was measured using a pneumotachometer and a sealed face mask; epiglottic pressure by a latex balloon placed just above the epiglottis and choanal pressure by anterior rhinometry. Pharyngeal resistance (measured at 300 ml/s) could thus be determined. Base-line inspiratory pharnygeal resistance was 1.6 +/- 0.2 cmH2O . l-1 . s. This increased to 2.3 +/- 0.3, 2.8 +/- 0.4, and 2.9 +/- 0.4 cmH2O . l-1 . s, respectively, with the addition of 1.3, 2.7, and 6.7 cmH2O . l-1 . s inspiratory load. The resistance at each level of load was significantly different from the base-line resistance determination (P less than 0.05) but not different from each other. We conclude that added nasal resistive loads during inspiration cause an increase in pharyngeal resistance during wakefulness but that this resistance does not increase further with additional increments of load.