Aim: Our goal was to present obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) from evolutionary and developmental perspective by highlighting the different elements that predispose humans to develop this condition.
Background: The development of complex speech and bipedalism were some of the adaptations that resulted in changes that predispose humans as a species to the development of OSA. Laryngeal descent and regression of the maxillomandibular complex were some of the changes that took place and that led to a smaller and more collapsible airway. During development, reduction of the posterior airway space and suboptimal growth of the maxillomandibular complex further increase the risk of developing OSA as adults.
Review results: Treatment of OSA should be a continuous effort that starts early in childhood through the establishment of adequate nasal breathing. Chronic mouth breathing during active craniofacial development of a child may result in anatomical changes that directly affect the airway. Different strategies may be applied to optimize nasal breathing and that allow continuous interaction between the nasomaxillary complex and the mandible during development. Ultimately, this will guide the growth of the entire facial-skeletal complex in a forward and horizontal orientation. This will result in a lower risk of developing a narrow and collapsible airway later in life.
Conclusion: Treatment of OSA should be a continuous effort to establish adequate nasal breathing early in life that will maximize the growth and development of the facial-skeletal complex and the upper airway. In order to accomplish this, multiple strategies need to be considered and possibly combined.
Clinical significance: OSA is a common disorder characterized by repetitive upper airway narrowing during sleep with resulting hypoxemia, hypercapnia, sympathetic activation, and sleep disruption. Early intervention in children suspected to have OSA is essential to reduce the risk of developing more severe OSA as adults.
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