BACKGROUND: The obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome is characterised by an increased apnoea-hypopnoea index and a reduction in the minimal arterial oxygen saturation (SaO2) values during sleep. The extent to which these variables can be predicted by cephalometric and otorhinolaryngological variables was tested. METHODS: One hundred consecutive habitual snorers (84% male), with a mean (SD) age of 50.1 (10.1) years, were studied. The 45 patients with less severe sleep apnoea, with an apnoea-hypopnoea index of 10 or less (group A), were compared with the 55 with an index above 10 (group B). RESULTS: Body mass index, some cephalometric variables, and some otorhinolaryngological variables differed significantly between group A and group B, in particular the soft tissue measures PNS-P (posterior nasal spine to palate), MP-H (mandibular plane to hyoid bone), degree of oropharynx stenosis, and tongue size. In a multiple regression correlation analysis MP-H, SNB (angle from sella to nasion to subspinale point), SNA (angle from sella to nasion to supramentale point), PAS (posterior airway space), tongue size, and body mass index contributed significantly to the equation explaining the severity of sleep apnoea. Nevertheless, these variables together explained only 33% of the variance of the apnoea-hypopnoea index in the total sample; they were more important for patients with moderate to severe stages of the disease. CONCLUSION: The lack of association between cephalometric variables and mild sleep apnoea suggests that the differences in these variables (soft tissue measures) may be the consequence rather than the cause of habitual snoring and the obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome.
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