A Picture's Worth a Thousand Words - Face ForWard Orthodontics

Can photographs predict if you’ll have sleep apnea?

According to a study published in the April issue of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 3D photographs could allow scientists a chance to analyze facial features to determine if a patient is at risk of developing obstructive sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA, is the most common type of sleep apnea, a sleep breathing disorder that affects more than 22 million people in the United States.

“OSA is characterized by breathing interruptions caused by blockages to the airway,” said Dr. Darin Ward, a Dallas, Texas, orthodontist.

Researchers on the study used 3D photography to determine how geodesic measurements, or the shortest distance between two points on a curved surface, translated to sleep apnea risk. Using this method, they were able to predict with 89 percent accuracy which patients in their study had sleep apnea.

The 3D method, which used predetermined landmarks on the face and neck, had higher accuracy than traditional 2D linear measurements (86 percent).

The Centre for Sleep Science at the University of Western Australia (UWA) conducted the study. It involved 300 participants with sleep apnea levels ranging from mild to severe and 100 people who did not have sleep apnea.

Participants were drawn from both a local hospital and the Raine Study, a longitudinal cohort study in Western Australia. All the participants completed overnight sleep studies, and each individual took 3D photos using a craniofacial scanner system.

Using the photos, researchers then worked with computer scientists at the school to determine the most common facial features associated with sleep apnea. These features include how far back the lower jaw is set compared to the upper jaw and width of the neck.

Data collected from the study also determined that the width and length of the lower jaw, the width of the face and the distance between the eyes can also be clues into the occurrence of OSA.

The researchers hope that 3D photography will eventually be used as a screening tool for sleep apnea, combined with a patient’s health history.

“Individuals with sleep apnea often experience obesity, high blood pressure and migraines,” Ward said.

Untreated sleep apnea is a severe health issue and can increase the risk of developing acute and chronic health conditions, including diabetes, stroke and heart disease. Sleep apnea has also been linked to an increased risk of cancer and liver disease.

“OSA is a serious—but treatable—health problem,” Ward said.


Source: American Academy of Sleep Medicine. “3D face photos could be a sleep apnea screening tool.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 April 2020.