About one in 13 Americans suffers from asthma, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. That includes some 20 million adults — nearly the same number who have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). While they are distinct conditions, mounting evidence shows a connection.
Landmark Study Shows OSA-Asthma Connection
A long-term Wisconsin study showed that asthmatic adults have a 40 percent greater risk of developing obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) than others. About 15 percent of the 550 study participants had asthma. In the study’s first follow-up, 27 percent of the asthmatic subjects had developed OSA, compared with 16 percent of non-asthmatic participants. Researchers also found that the longer a person lives with asthma, the greater their risk of developing obstructive sleep apnea.
Asthma is a swelling and narrowing of the airways caused by allergens or other airborne irritants. Symptoms include wheezing, coughing, trouble breathing, and chest tightness.
Obstructive sleep apnea also obstructs the airway. It results from muscle relaxation that causes soft tissue in the back of the throat to collapse and block the upper airway. OSA interrupts breathing, sometimes for ten seconds or more, throughout the night. Sufferers tend to snore loudly, gasp for air, and wake up frequently.
How Sleep Apnea Worsens Asthma Symptoms
Research shows that sleep apnea may aggravate asthma in several ways:
- OSA may irritate the smooth muscle around the airway and cause it to contract. In people with asthma, this serves to further narrow the airway and worsen symptoms
- The gasping and choking that occur with sleep apnea can irritate nerves in the throat and esophagus, adding to muscle contraction around the airways
- OSA may also release inflammatory chemicals into the bloodstream, compounding the lung inflammation associated with asthma
- Sleep apnea might make it easier for stomach acid to enter the lungs
Other research shows a correlation among four conditions: sleep apnea, acid reflux, asthma, and obesity. Many people with acid reflux overeat because saliva produced from chewing helps neutralize stomach acid. This leads to weight gain, which aggravates both OSA and asthma.
Treatment for Sleep Apnea and Asthma
A Finnish study shows that sleep apnea treatments can also improve asthma. Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy and oral appliance therapy are both effective ways to keep airways open during sleep.
If you suffer from obstructive sleep apnea with or without asthma, talk to our doctor in Glen Burnie, MD about getting the relief you need. Schedule an evaluation and get important information on corrective therapy that will help you breathe easier.