Three-dimensional facial photography can provide a simple and highly accurate method of predicting the presence of obstructive sleep apnea, according to a study led by The University of Western Australia (UWA).
The research, published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, builds on previous work identifying that the structure of the face, head, and neck played a key role in diagnosing sleep apnea.

Professor Peter Eastwood, director of the Centre for Sleep Science, and his research team ran overnight sleep studies while Syed Zulqarnain Gilani, PhD, from UWA’s School of Computer Science and Software Engineering, analyzed the 3D faces.

“What we found was that we could predict the presence of obstructive sleep apnea with 91% accuracy when craniofacial measurements from 3D photography were combined into a single predictive algorithm,” Gilani says in a release.

The study recruited 400 middle-aged men and women who took part in sleep studies at UWA’s Centre for Sleep Science and Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital while their faces were analyzed from 3D photographs. Participants were also recruited from Western Australia’s Raine Study.

The study suggests that it might also be possible to predict the severity of a person’s sleep apnea from these photographs.

“This breakthrough has the potential to reduce the burden on hospitals and sleep clinics that currently run sleep studies for everyone,” Gilani says. “It can flag people at risk of sleep apnea who can then be referred for diagnosis and treatment.”