Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Neck FAQ

Question:

Whenever my father falls asleep in his chair and his head bobs forward, he stops breathing. I'm afraid to leave him alone. Is this normal in a 78-year old?

Answer:

Apnea or cessation of breathing isn't normal at any age but it can affect people of all ages from babies to older adults.

A medical exam is needed to find out the cause of the problem. It could be a form of sleep apnea that only occurs when the person is asleep. Or it could be positional from the forward bent position of the head on the neck.

There have been some reports of bone spurs in the anterior cervical spine (front of the neck) pressing on nearby soft tissues causing problems. If the bone spur gets large enough it can press on the windpipe (pharynx) or voice box (larynx). Bending the head forward would push the bony protrusion even further into the soft tissues making the problem worse.

Usually the person reports difficulty breathing, talking, or swallowing when awake. It's impossible to know what's going on without an MRI or some other form of imaging. A medical evaluation is advised as soon as possible.

Naeem Ahmed Farooqi, MRCS(Edin), et al. Cervical Osteophytes: A Cause of Potentially Life-Threatening Laryngeal Spasms. Case Report. In Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine. May 2006. Vol. 4. No. 5. Pp. 419-420.

*Disclaimer:* The information contained herein is compiled from a variety of sources. It may not be complete or timely. It does not cover all diseases, physical conditions, ailments or treatments. The information should NOT be used in place of visit with your healthcare provider, nor should you disregard the advice of your health care provider because of any information you read in this topic.
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