Asthmatics at a 40 Percent Greater Risk for Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

B.S. Dietetics, Dietitian, Health Professional

New research indicates adults with asthma may be at a greater risk for another breathing condition, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).   The study, Association Between Asthma and Risk of Developing Obstructive Sleep Apnea, was conducted by Dr. Mihaela Teodorescu, of the William S. Middleton Memorial Veteran's Hospital and the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.   Researchers followed 550 adults, 15 percent of whom had asthma.

In the first four year follow ups the researchers found that 27 percent of asthmatic participants had newly diagnosed OSA.   At the conclusion of the study the researchers found that asthma patients were at a 40 percent greater risk for OSA than their non-asthmatic patients.   While the study does not draw conclusions as to why there is such a link between asthmatic patients and OSA it is important to pay attention to the fact that the conditions are associated with one another.

More than 12 million people in the U.S. have sleep apnea according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. OSA is the most common form of sleep apnea and occurs when there are repeated episodes where breathing stops during sleep.   Symptoms may include snoring, sleepiness during the day, abrupt awakenings or awaking with a dry mouth or soar throat.   Most often it is the patient's partner that first notices an issue with OSA.

OSA episodes are caused by a complete or partial blockage of the upper airway.   These blockages can be caused by a number of   factors like being overweight, large neck size, small airway, swollen or large tonsils, too much tissue at the back of the throat, large tongue or even a deviated septum.   Smoking, high blood pressure and heart disease risk factors also put a person at a higher risk for OSA.

If you have asthma and any of the additional risk factors for OSA discuss these issues with your physician as soon as possible.   They may want to monitor your breathing as you sleep with a sleep test called a polysomnogram, or PSG.   During this test your oxygen levels, brain activity, breathing patterns, heart rate and other vital signs will be measured while you sleep.   These readings will allow the doctor to determine if you have OSA.

Treatments for OSA depend on the severity and if they were able to determine any cause.   For overweight patients you will likely be advised to loose weight.   If sinus issues are deemed to be the main cause there may be medications prescribed to treat that condition or surgery if needed.   A CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) is the most frequent mechanical device used to treat sleep apnea.   It involves wearing a mask that forces air into the airway and helps keep the upper airway tissue from collapsing during sleep.

Treating OSA is important for your overall health.   Drops in blood oxygen from OSA are dangerous for many reasons.   OSA can lead to excessive daytime sleepiness, headaches, difficulty concentrating, mood changes, insomnia and even eye problems.   The most serious complication of untreated OSA is cardiovascular diseases like coronary artery disease, heart attack and stroke.   If you have asthma and symptoms of OSA please talk with your doctor as soon as possible.