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Asthma and Sleep Apnea

According to statistics, a whopping 19 million people have asthma. Even though it is a manageable condition for many, there are also those who suffer from severe asthma and whose symptoms worsen over time and develop other respiratory conditions. In this case, asthma can really affect their quality of life.

And, since sleep apnea is also a respiratory condition, it is logical that these two are connected. However, although they share some risk factors, the treatment is remarkably different. Therefore, it is crucial that symptoms are diagnosed early to be able to get treated accordingly and manage to live with the condition.

For that reason, let’s first dig deeper into these two respiratory conditions to be able to differentiate between them.

What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)?

A respiratory condition characterized by breathing interruptions during sleep by making it difficult for the diaphragm to get air into the lungs is called obstructive sleep apnea. The main cause is either a partial or entire blockage in the upper airway which differs from individual to individual. The blockage can be a result of relaxed muscles, swollen tonsils, heart disease, obesity, and endocrine disorders.

What is Asthma?

The second respiratory condition we’re going to deal with in this article is asthma. This condition causes coughing and shortness of breath as a result of inflamed and swollen lung airway. And, in case of swollen up airways, these patients can experience an asthma attack, mostly during exercise or allergy season. Another asthma symptom, even though it is not that common, is increased mucus production. Luckily, the condition can be managed with medication.

What’s the Connection between Sleep Apnea and Asthma?

Namely, one study found out that asthma patients are more likely to develop obstructive sleep apnea when compared to those without asthma. The reason for this lies in the two main features of asthma: nasal obstruction and an increased likeliness of airway collapsibility, which significantly increase the risk of developing sleep apnea.

Another research shows that certain medications used for treating asthma, corticosteroids to be exact, increase the chance of suffering from obstructive sleep apnea. As opposed to these findings, studies have shown that untreated or undiagnosed sleep apnea actually makes asthma symptoms worse. Mainly this is a result of intermittent hypoxia (oxygen deprivation) which inflames the lung tissue.

Luckily, the number one obstructive sleep apnea treatment – continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy – can also help asthma patients relieve symptoms. This is probably expected since these conditions are so closely connected. In fact, according to a study, CPAP therapy is beneficial for improving asthma control, lung function, and the quality of life of those who suffer from both of these conditions. But, bear in mind that using a CPAP machine will only alleviate symptoms, not cure asthma.

Finally, as sleep apnea and asthma may share a treatment, they also share one often annoying symptom – snoring. Namely, sleep apnea is a condition often related to snoring, but asthma may also be responsible because of the congestion, especially in the case of allergy-induced asthma.

The Bottom Line

Both of these respiratory conditions, sleep apnea and asthma, vary from individual to individual. But, if you find yourself having difficulties breathing while asleep, make sure you discuss your symptoms with a doctor and get diagnosed so that you know what further treatment you need.

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