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Researchers out of Iceland have found that people with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) are twice as likely to suffer from severe cases of COVID-19.

The Center for Disease Control reported that the omicron variant of COVID-19 accounted for 95.4% of new cases in the United States at the beginning of January. The increased risk of infection of this more easily transmissible variant increases concern among many who already have respiratory disorders, such as OSA.

Researchers studied a group of more than 4,500 adults who had COVID-19 in 2020, 185 of whom also reported having OSA. Data on the participants’ demographics, COVID-19 symptoms, and additional medical conditions were provided through national registries, which allowed researchers to compare the experience of COVID-19 between those with OSA and those without.

The study found that OSA was associated with a twofold increase in risk of severe COVID-19 that resulted in hospitalization or death.

The connection between severe COVID-19 and OSA may be attributed to a potentially heightened immune response. Low-grade inflammation may affect people with OSA, which can signal a more severe immune response to COVID-19.

Another link may be low blood oxygen levels observed in both COVID-19 patients and OSA. These abnormally low levels of oxygen in the blood may more severely impact people with OSA. Patients with the respiratory disorder may already experience low blood oxygen levels, which can be further exacerbated by COVID-19.

“Taken together, our results, in addition to previous studies, indicate that OSA may be a risk factor for severe COVID-19,” researchers said.

Of the 185 patients with OSA, 49% had been prescribed and were currently using CPAP treatment, 13% had returned their CPAP device, and 8% were on a waiting list for a CPAP device.

The use of a CPAP machine, according to researchers, has been proposed to mitigate the risk for severe COVID-19 among OSA patients. Researchers point to a need for more studies surrounding the potentially healing effect that CPAP treatment may have on COVID-19 outcomes in those with OSA.

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1 Sources

  1. Rögnvaldsson, K., Eyþórsson, E., Emilsson, O., Eysteinsdóttir, B., Pálsson, R., Gottfreðsson, M., Guðmundsson, G., Steingrímsson, V,. (2021). Obstructive sleep apnea is an independent risk factor for severe COVID-19: a population-based study. Sleep., Retrieved January 3, 2022.


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