Can Sleep Apnea Increase COVID Risks?

added on: February 15, 2022

As studies reveal more intricacies of the COVID-19 virus, we are learning about what makes an individual more vulnerable and what can create a higher risk of its severity, or death.

In the U.S., about 81 percent of COVID-related deaths have been in the 65 and over age group. Risks are even higher for older COVID patients when they have other health conditions.

Early on, it was known that COVID-19 targets the lungs. For those who were already dealing with chronic lung problems, vulnerability to the effects of the virus have been much greater. Some of these health conditions include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lung cancer, cystic fibrosis and moderate to severe asthma. Related also to this higher risk are medications for these conditions that can weaken the immune system.

Another risk factor revealed is being a type 1 or type 2 diabetic. Being obese or morbidly obese (over 80 – 100 lbs. above one’s ideal body weight) also increases this risk. Doubly challenging is being diabetic and obese both, which further strains the effectiveness of an individual’s immune system.

Now, research has determined another risk factor for sleep apnea sufferers.

A study conducted on COVID patients in Iceland revealed double the risk for those with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) compared with patients without OSA. Sleep apnea also increased the potential for more severe levels of COVID-19 that required hospitalization or led to death. Even after adjustments were made for other health conditions, these higher risk factors remained clear in the study.

Although more research is needed along these lines, the use of CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) treatment has been found to modify the risk of severe COVID-19 in patients with OSA. This is good news for sleep apnea patients who are compliant with the use of this device. Unfortunately, compliance levels show that over one-third of those who have been prescribed for a CPAP device are consistent users.

Complaints of CPAP therapy are similar among its users. Many cite the inability to move around comfortably in bed. A number complain about noise, inconvenience, feeling claustrophobic and even embarrassed.

What is obstructive sleep apnea?

If you are known to snore heavily, this is often a telltale sign of obstructive sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is coming to light as one of the nation’s most concerning health conditions among adults in the U.S.

Sleep apnea translates to “pauses” in breathing during sleep. These pauses can occur hundreds of times each night, with each lasting for up to a minute. For people who have sleep apnea, the lack of a restful and rejuvenating night’s sleep creates many challenges the next day. These include fatigue, lack of alertness, reduced energy, nodding off easily, feeling hungry more often, and being more accident prone. Sleep apnea has been labeled as more deadly than drunk driving.

As depleting as these symptoms are, many people are unaware of the serious health conditions also associated with sleep apnea. The deprivation of sufficient oxygen to the brain and heart night after night increases the risks of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.

Obstructive sleep apnea afflicts at least 25 million adults in the U.S., according to the National Healthy Sleep Awareness Project. And, the problem has only gotten worse over the last two decades.

For individuals who suspect sleep apnea, a sleep study can determine if it exists as well as its severity. For some people, the deterrent to being properly diagnosed has been the dread of having a sleep study conducted. Spending the night in a sleep lab while hooked up to measurement devices can seem daunting.

There are now at-home sleep studies that can be performed while the person is at home in his/her own bed. At-home studies are shown to be effective and affordable. They are mailed right to the residence. Once testing is complete, the device is mailed back for analysis by a sleep physician. Insurance companies (including Medicare, for some people) may cover the cost of the testing process.

Regardless of how you are tested, it is important to address sleep apnea early. This disorder will not go away on its own, or improve. If you are known to snore heavily, early testing can help you minimize related health risks AND restore your energy, alertness and motivation levels during the day.

Early diagnosis can also minimize treatment needs. When caught before sleep apnea reaches a “severe” level, a small, comfortable oral appliance worn during sleep may be all that’s needed. Our FDA-approved devices are custom-fitted to each mouth.

In our Shelby Township, MI dental office, we also use low-radiation Cone Beam imaging to properly assess all considerations of airways passages. Through this, we are able to tailor each device and usage protocols appropriately for each individual. Here, sleep apnea therapy also includes the advanced skills of a neuromuscular dentist.

Through over 300 hours of extensive training, I achieved the designation of a neuromuscular dentist. A neuromuscular dentist has a unique understanding of cranio-facial interactions, including airway passages. By incorporating these skills into treatment, we are able to provide the advantages of neuromuscular considerations to correct associated problems or avoid those that can originate with improper balance of the bite.

Many people with sleep apnea come to our Michigan dental office from all across Macomb and Oakland county, and even further out. We are known for taking a unique approach to each patient’s situation and incorporating follow-up that helps to provide optimal results.

If you snore or suspect your sleep quality is less-than-refreshing, call our Shelby Twp dental practice at 586-739-2155 to learn more, or tap here to request a free, private consultation appointment. Together, we’ll discuss your specific needs and the diagnostic process.

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Dr. Ban R. Barbat

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