Obstructive Sleep Apnea During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Patients with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) could have an increased risk for adverse COVID-19 outcomes, according to a systematic review published in Sleep Medicine Reviews.

A recent study found that a significant number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 also have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), suggesting that the condition could be associated with poor outcomes and severe illness for those with the virus. (Source: Sleep Medicine and Disorders: International Journal)

Due to many COVID-19 restrictions, the standard procedure to diagnose OSA with in-lab sleep study might not be an option. Instead, providers are using telehealth and other tools to identify OSA and help patients get treatment to guard against any possible COVID-19 risk factors.

Researchers at Turku University Hospital in Finland examined the medical records of 278 COVID-19 patients in the spring of 2020 and discovered that 29% of the patients had OSA.

The findings raised the possibility that OSA could be a potential risk factor for COVID-19. Obesity—another comorbidity for severe COVID-19 illness—is also a common denominator shared by people diagnosed with OSA. Another study in the U.K. reviewing COVID-19 and OSA estimated that more than 85% of potential OSA cases remain undetected. This leads researchers to believe that a large number of unidentified individuals may be at increased risk of experiencing severe COVID-19 outcomes.

Management of OSA with some lifestyle changes can help, such as managing weight, avoiding alcohol and sedatives, and avoiding sleeping on your back (known medically as the supine position).

Instead, snorers and people with mild OSA are often advised to sleep on their sides. Research shows that this simple fix, also known as positional therapy, works. One study found that 56% of patients with OSA experienced a difference of 50% or more in the apnea index between the supine and non-supine sleep positions, which just goes to show that changing your sleeping position can help!