Increased risk of new coronavirus infection in the long term for individuals with sleep apnea syndrome

New research has shown that having obstructive sleep apnea can increase the chances of contracting long-term illness from COVID-19 by up to 75%. It has been advised that people with sleep apnea diagnosed with the virus may benefit from additional monitoring. The study, published in the journal Sleep on May 11, examined databases of 1.8 million and 330,000 adults, as well as 106,000 children. All participants had tested positive for COVID-19 between March 2020 and February 2022. While no link was found in children, the research showed that adults with obstructive sleep apnea were significantly more likely to suffer from long-lasting COVID-19 symptoms than those without.

Obstructive sleep apnea affects approximately 29.4 million adults in the United States and is characterized by snoring and gasping caused by upper airway obstruction. Long-term novel coronavirus parameters are less well-defined and can last for weeks to years, causing symptoms including fatigue, respiratory problems, and headaches. This complexity made Thorpe and her team’s work challenging as they had no official definition of prolonged COVID-19 to rely on. The team studied over 2.2 million patients who had tested positive for COVID-19 in three different datasets. They also identified those who had been diagnosed with OSA (about 5% of adults and less than 2% of children) and used machine learning to determine who was more likely to develop long-term COVID-19. The study found that women with OSA were more susceptible to long-term COVID-19 than men with OSA in the larger dataset, with women being 89% more likely to suffer from long-term COVID-19.

While it is still unclear what exactly causes the link between sleep apnea and long-term COVID-19 infection, doctors suggest that the hypoxemia caused by sleep apnea (reduced oxygen in the blood) could also worsen COVID-19 symptoms, and severe infections resulting in long-lasting COVID-19 can often lead to further inflammation. As nearly 1 billion adults worldwide may have the condition, people are advised to look out for symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea, including snoring, restless sleep, and excessive daytime tiredness, and seek medical help if necessary. They are also encouraged to stay up to date with recommended vaccinations and to seek early treatment if diagnosed with COVID-19.

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