The fluid dynamics of air flow in the pharynx is critical to the vibration of the uvula and to the generation of the snoring sound. In this work, a combined experimental and computational approach was conducted to study the aerodynamics of the flow field in the human airway. An anatomically accurate pharynx model associated with different uvula kinematics was reconstructed from human magnetic resonance images (MRI) and high-speed photography. An immersed-boundary-method (IBM)-based direct numerical simulation (DNS) flow solver was used to simulate the corresponding unsteady flows in all their complexity. Analysis has been performed on vortex dynamics and pressure oscillation at various points of interest. Computations with varying airway obstructions, uvula kinematics, and vibrating frequencies were conducted to study the effect of the three factors on the vortex formation and pressure oscillation, respectively. It is found that the vortex formation is significantly affected by the airway width. The fast Fourier transformation (FFT) analysis of the pressure time history revealed the existence of higher order harmonics of the base frequency at significant amplitudes. It was also found that the pressure tended to oscillate more violently at higher uvula vibrating frequencies. Results from this work are expected to bring novel understanding on the sound producing in patients with sleep apnea and provide guidance for surgical interventions.

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