Current Sleep Medicine Reports

, Volume 4, Issue 4, pp 294–299 | Cite as

The Influence of Gender and Age on Upper Airway Reflexes

  • James A. RowleyEmail author
Sleep Related Breathing Disorders (L Kheirandish-Gozal, Section Editor)
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Topical Collection on Sleep Related Breathing Disorders


Purpose of Review

Differences in upper airway collapsibility are thought to underlie the observations that obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is more common in men and in older individuals. Baseline neuromuscular activity and upper airway reflexes are two of the determinants of upper airway size and collapsibility and gender and aging differences in these determinants could explain, in part, differences in OSA prevalence. The purpose of this review is to review the influence of gender and age on upper airway reflexes.

Recent Findings

Most recent findings indicate that aging is associated with both changes in baseline neuromuscular activity of the genioglossus muscle (when studied as muscle unit potentials) and is associated with impairment in upper airway reflexes, particularly the perception response to inspiratory loading.


The limited data on gender differences in upper airway reflexes shows no difference in the negative pressure reflex or relationship between epiglottic pressure and genioglossus activity. Thus, gender differences in upper airway collapsibility are probably not explained by differences in upper airway reflexes. In contrast, there is evidence that upper airway reflexes are impaired with aging and these impairments might contribute to the increased collapsibility of the upper airway observed in some, though not all, studies of older subjects.


Gender Upper airway Upper airway reflexes Upper airway collapsibility Obstructive sleep apnea 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

James A. Rowley declares no conflicts of interest.

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.


Papers of particular interest, published recently, have been highlighted as: • Of importance •• Of major importance

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Internal MedicineWayne State University School of MedicineDetroitUSA

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