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J Appl Physiol (1985). 1985 Feb;58(2):635-44.

Factors influencing regional patency and configuration of the human infant upper airway.


To study factors influencing patency and configuration of the upper airway, we studied 11 infant cadavers using endoscopy and photography. In most cases, studies were performed shortly after death. The naso-, oro-, and hypopharynx and the larynx were studied. The upper airway was sealed at the nose and mouth so that transmural airway pressure could be raised or lowered. As pressure was lowered airway closure was seen in each of the four regions studied. With respect to closing pressure, the oropharynx was the most compliant region and the larynx the least compliant. In the naso-, oro-, and hypopharynx, lowering the transmural pressure was associated with inward movement of the anterior, posterior, and lateral airway walls. In the larynx, closure occurred by vocal cord opposition in the midline. Tension applied to the genioglossus and geniohyoid tongue muscles had an effect opposite to that of airway suction, causing a more or less symmetrical dilation of the naso- and oropharynx. When the airway was closed, additional tension was needed to produce airway reopening, suggesting that adhesion forces act to maintain airway closure. Neck flexion caused pharyngeal closure, and neck extension caused pharyngeal dilation. Secretions adherent to the walls of the airway visibly narrowed its lumen. The relevance of these findings for the obstructive sleep apnea and laryngomalacia syndromes is discussed.

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