Sleep Apnea and COVID-19

sleep apnea and covid-19

Sleep apnea is a fairly common condition in which people stop breathing for seconds or even up to a minute when they are sleeping. This can lead to snoring or to noticeable catches in breathing which a spouse or roommate may notice. Often, people who live alone don’t even know that they have sleep apnea. They may feel tired during the day, but do not realize that they are suffering from sleep apnea. 

A sleep study may be necessary to diagnose the problem. 

Sleep Apnea and COVID-19

Recent research suggests that people with sleep apnea may be at greater risk of getting COVID-19, and at risk of having more severe symptoms if they catch the virus. A study in Finland found that 29% of patients admitted to the hospital with coronavirus had sleep apnea, while only about 3% of the general population had the condition.

A review of the literature on the subject confirmed connections between sleep apnea and coronavirus. However, some of the conditions and lifestyle choices that increase the risk of sleep apnea also increase the risk of CODIV-19:

  • obesity
  • alcohol use
  • smoking
  • increased age
  • underlying diseases

That means that it is not possible at this point to tell whether sleep apnea itself is a risk factor for COVID-19. It might be simply that sleep apnea and COVID-19 share risk factors. People who are obese and elderly might be more likely to experience sleep apnea and also more likely to have severe cases of COVID-19.

Researchers in the UK saw worse outcomes, including death, in COVID-19 patients who also had sleep apnea. While they hesitated to draw strong conclusions, partly because the condition is under-diagnosed in Great Britain, they strongly encouraged people with sleep apnea to be especially vigilant about wearing masks and practicing social distancing.

An article in Pulmonology Advisor pointed out that sleep deprivation, one of the effects of sleep apnea, is itself associated with lung problems, even without a diagnosis of sleep apnea.

While more research is needed, it appears that sleep apnea and COVID-19 are connected.

Action steps

If you think that you might have sleep apnea and have not been diagnosed, you should contact your doctor or a pulmonary medicine specialist to make sure. This information could help you make the right decisions about how to respond to the pandemic.

Treatment plans for sleep apnea may also help manage respiratory health. “Now more than ever is the time to follow your treatment plan as diligently as possible,” said one university researcher.