Importance Positive pressure air is used during basic life support to provide respirations and applied as continuous positive airway pressure to maintain a patent airway during sleep or anesthesia. These functions are more critical in children with obstructive sleep apnea, who often have smaller airway dimensions and increased airway collapsibility.
Observations We report 2 cases of boys with Down syndrome and a history of obstructive sleep apnea in whom adverse narrowing of the retroglossal airway is caused by continuous positive airway pressure applied via face mask as documented with magnetic resonance imaging.
Conclusions and Relevance Administration of continuous positive airway pressure by means of face mask to patients can result in adverse effects on the airway patency by pushing the tongue posteriorly. Awareness of this effect on patients with open mouths and large tongues, as present in Down syndrome, is important for sleep apnea treatment, anesthesia, and emergency respiratory support. Generalization of our observation is not possible at this time. Additional prospective studies of the effects of continuous positive airway pressure on airway patency in sedated and/or anesthetized children are required to confirm our anecdotal observations.