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Exercising Throat Muscles May Relieve Sleep Apnea

Workout regimen for the upper airway may improve sleep disorder symptoms, study finds

FRIDAY, May 8 (HealthDay News) -- Tongue and throat exercises may help people with mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) find relief, a new report says.

A three-month program helped reduce OSA severity by 40 percent in the test subjects and improved symptoms such as low oxygen saturation levels in blood, sleepiness, snoring and poor sleep quality, according to the findings in the second issue for May of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. Of the 10 moderate OSA sufferers who did the exercises, eight were reclassified afterward as having only a mild condition and two were upgraded to having no OSA.

"It was commonly thought among doctors that strengthening and toning oropharyngeal muscles would have no benefit to the patient during sleep, but a recent study showed that didgeridoo playing helped decrease snoring and OSA," study investigator Dr. Geraldo Lorenzi-Filho of the sleep laboratory at the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, said in an American Thoracic Society news release. "This was a change of paradigm, and indicated that not everything you do during the day is lost during sleep."

For the study, 16 people diagnosed with mild to moderate OSA performed a daily and weekly regimen of tongue and pharyngeal exercises, while 15 other sufferers performed a placebo treatment of deep breathing and nasal rinsing with saline solution. The control group experienced no change in their condition, and neither group experienced a change in weight or body size, two factors in the cause of OSA.

"The muscles of the upper airways are extremely complex, and the mechanisms leading to OSA are far from being well understood," Lorenzi-Filho said. "A strong muscle may be working on the wrong direction and not necessarily helping to open the airways. The overall set of exercises we tested target the correct physiology of the upper airway and should promote remodeling of the upper airways."

He said the researchers were unsure exactly how the exercises caused the change and if all of them were equally effective, but suggested further research would explore these questions.

More information

The American Sleep Apnea Association has more about OSA.

-- Kevin McKeever

SOURCE: American Thoracic Society, news release, May 7, 2009

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