Computational fluid dynamics modeling of the upper airway of children with obstructive sleep apnea syndrome in steady flow

Chun Xu, Sang Hun Sin, Joseph M. McDonough, Jayaram K. Udupa, Allon Guez, Raanan Arens, David M. Wootton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

147 Scopus citations


Computational fluid dynamic (CFD) analysis was used to model the effect of airway geometry on internal pressure in the upper airway of three children with obstructive sleep apnea syndrome (OSAS), and three controls. Model geometry was reconstructed from magnetic resonance images obtained during quiet tidal breathing, meshed with an unstructured grid, and solved at normative peak resting flow. The unsteady Reynolds-averaged Navier-Stokes equations were solved with steady flow boundary conditions in inspiration and expiration, using a two-equation low-Reynolds number turbulence model. Model results were validated using an in-vitro scale model, unsteady flow simulation, and reported nasal resistance measurements in children. Pharynx pressure drop strongly correlated to airway area restriction. Inspiratory pressure drop was primarily proportional to the square of flow, consistent with pressure losses due to convective acceleration caused by area restriction. On inspiration, in OSAS pressure drop occurred primarily between the choanae and the region where the adenoids overlap the tonsils (overlap region) due to airway narrowing, rather than in the nasal passages; in controls the majority of pressure drop was in the nasal passages. On expiration, in OSAS the majority of pressure drop occurred between the oropharynx (posterior to the tongue) and overlap region, and local minimum pressure in the overlap region was near atmospheric due to pressure recovery in the anterior nasopharynx. The results suggest that pharyngeal airway shape in children with OSAS significantly affects internal pressure distribution compared to nasal resistance. The model may also help explain regional dynamic airway narrowing during expiration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2043-2054
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Biomechanics
Issue number11
StatePublished - 2006


  • Flow resistance
  • Human
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Pharynx
  • Pressure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Rehabilitation


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