Sword Swallowing and Sleep Apnea

Here's a bizarre anatomic factoid that you may find interesting (or disgusting). One of the most common diagnostic surgical procedures that ENT surgeons are trained for is rigid upper endoscopy, where long, rigid tubes are passed into the esophagus or trachea to not only visualize the anatomy, but also for biopsies or laser treatment. 

Dr. Chavalier Jackson was a laryngologist in the early part of this century in Philadelphia who observed that sword swallowers could accomplish their feats with amazing ease. Anatomically, he realized that with your head tilted back, it's literally a straight line from your mouth into your stomach. Most primitive animals and most mammals (other than humans) have relatively straight passageways as well. With humans, our air passageways are curved at a right angle, which is one of the natural consequences of complex speech.

We can literally place up to a one inch wide hollow, metallic tubes all the way into the stomach and (using smaller tubes) the far reaches of most of your lungs. 

Now with flexible fiberoptic technology, this technology may seem outdated, but there are certain situations where rigid endoscopy may have advantages: With rigid tubes, it's much easier to manipulate the tissues that you're looking at, and you can literally "feel" any lesions, lumps or tumors. In addition, you can add a binocular microscope and "see" the area of interest in 3-D. You can operate with two hands by using a microscope, or use a laser. 

So what does this have to do with sleep apnea? Nothing, specifically. But I wanted to point out an anatomic anomaly that all humans have that not only allowed for complex speech and development, but also predisposed us to major sleep-breathing problems.

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One thought on “Sword Swallowing and Sleep Apnea

  1. Greetings Dr. Park!
    I remember listening (indeed, I facilitated the telephone call in as I was a Broadcast Technician) to a man on "Focus on the Family" who had esophageal cancer but was able to maintain his airway and food pathway by inserting a rubber tube down his throat a couple of times a day.
    Recently you had a lady on your internet radio show who told of tongue exercise to reduce sleep apnea symptoms.
    So now I wonder if you could develop a therapy using exercise and throat massage which would strengthen the muscles in the airway passage and perhaps also reduce inflammation and fat tissues?
    Your silly thought for the day!
    Tod Merley