Middle ear pressure during sleep and the effects of continuous positive airway pressure

Joshua J. Thom, Matthew L. Carlson, Colin L W Driscoll, Erik K St Louis, Kannan Ramar, Eric J. Olson, Brian A. Neff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

11 Scopus citations


Purpose Prior studies evaluating Eustachian tube physiology, baseline middle ear pressure (MEP), and the effects of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) have been performed on awake patients. No study to date has specifically investigated MEP during sleep despite the fact that the average individual spends a third of their lifetime sleeping. The primary objectives of the current study are to quantify normal physiologic MEP during sleep and to evaluate the effects of escalating CPAP levels. Materials and methods Prospective observational study at a tertiary academic referral center evaluating serial tympanometry on sleeping adult patients during polysomnography. MEP was recorded awake, at 1-hour intervals during diagnostic polysomnography, and at all CPAP levels during titration. Changes in MEP with duration of sleep and escalating CPAP levels were analyzed. Results Ten adults were included (4 females; 6 males; mean age 58 years). The mean MEP while awake was 3 decapascals (daPa). The mean MEP during sleep without CPAP rose steadily from 14 daPa at 1 hour to 41 daPa at 4 hours (r = 0.52; p < 0.001). The mean MEP during sleep at a CPAP level of 5 cm of water was 54 daPa. The mean MEP rose steadily with increasing CPAP levels, and was 104 daPa at 10 cm of water, (r = 0.82; p < 0.001). The mean MEP during sleep without CPAP was 26 daPa, which was significantly lower than the mean MEP during sleep with CPAP between 5-10 cm H2O (p < 0.01). Conclusions MEP naturally increases with duration of sleep. CPAP therapy causes a supraphysiologic elevation in MEP that rises with increasing pressure levels. These findings may help guide future studies examining the safety of CPAP following otologic surgery and the potential therapeutic benefit in patients with chronic middle ear disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)173-177
Number of pages5
JournalAmerican Journal of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Medicine and Surgery
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2015


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Otorhinolaryngology

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