According to a new study, a great share (29%) of hospitalized COVID-19 patients also suffer from obstructive sleep apnea which suggests that this sleep disorder is linked to poor outcomes including hospitalization and mechanical ventilation for those who got infected with the novel coronavirus. In other words, OSA can be considered as a risk factor for COVID-19.
Namely, people suffering from obstructive sleep apnea are usually obese, older, and have other conditions that are co-morbidities for severe COVID-19 illness such as hypertension and diabetes. In other words, OSA might make COVID-19 worse.
Now, let’s dig deeper and find out everything you need to know about obstructive sleep apnea and COVID-19.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) Basics
In brief, sleep apnea is a condition characterized by breathing interruptions during sleep. It is estimated that a whopping 18 million Americans suffer from obstructive sleep apnea. Generally, obese men aged 40+ are common OSA patients. Still, obstructive sleep apnea can affect others too, including children.
This condition is caused by a blockage, either partial or complete, of the airway passages while asleep, leading to breathing interruptions, low blood oxygen levels, and frequent sleep arousals. Eventually, it can cause other severe health conditions including heart disease, hypertension, headaches, and memory issues.
Luckily, once you get diagnosed with OSA, you can treat it to improve both your health and sleep and potentially reduce the risk of poor outcomes in case you contract COVID-19.
OSA Diagnosis during the Pandemic
The gold standard for diagnosing sleep apnea is an in-lab or an at-home sleep test. But, this was before the pandemic. Now, due to the many restrictions, the first may not be an option. Hence, medical providers are offering other ways to diagnose OSA like telehealth, algorithm, and other tools, relying more on clinical judgment.
Furthermore, many apps for diagnosing sleep disorders have been created that provide essential data to help medical staff form their clinical judgment. Also, tech companies are incorporating health tracking apps into their devices. There’s also a special app and website that help patients with sleep disorders get in touch with a specialist through video.
Luckily, as we already mentioned, OSA is treatable once you get diagnosed. A couple of treatment options, depending on the severity, are successful for alleviating OSA symptoms including:
- Continuous positive airways pressure (CPAP) therapy uses a machine to blow air into the airway and help it keep open during sleep. It can be either a mask that fits over your nose or mouth, or both.
- A mouth device is yet another sleep apnea treatment option that opens the throat by moving the jaw forward and is most suitable for patients with mild to moderate sleep apnea.
- Surgery is the last treatment option recommended to severe sleep apnea patients when the other two options cannot help. Such surgeries may reduce tissue in the back of the throat, bring the tongue forward, and add a nerve stimulator that opens the airway. Other surgery options include tonsils or adenoids removal.
However, besides medical treatment, several lifestyle changes can also help you alleviate obstructive sleep apnea symptoms and improve your sleep quality. These changes include:
- Get rid of excess weight – even losing 10 percent of your body weight can immediately improve your sleep apnea. As we said, obesity is one of the risk factors for obstructive sleep apnea.
- Limit alcohol and sedatives consumption – to relieve OSA symptoms you should avoid consuming alcohol before going to bed, at least four hours, and avoid taking sleeping pills and other sedatives.
- Give up smoking – since cigarette smoke may cause inflammation that eventually narrows your airway passages, you’d better quit smoking to improve your overall health and sleep apnea symptoms.