Treating Sleep Apnea May Decrease Risk of Flu Hospitalization

November 1, 2020
Avatar for Kelley MingusKelley Mingus

With cold and flu season right around the corner, many people are concerned about flu prevention – especially during the pandemic. Fortunately, we’ve all be washing our hands more and wearing masks, so the risk of contracting a cold or the flu may be lower this year. Still, some take extra measures like getting a flu vaccine and avoiding crowds, but that may still not be enough.

The flu can be especially dangerous to vulnerable groups like the elderly or those with weakened immune systems, but a new study has found that it could also be dangerous to another group of individuals: those with obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA.

Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition wherein the airway becomes obstructed by the throat during sleep, causing difficulty breathing, snoring, and sleep deprivation. The study, which was published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine examined data showing that those with untreated obstructive sleep apnea are more likely to end up hospitalized with the flu. In the study, a full 61% of people hospitalized with the flu had untreated obstructive sleep apnea, while with those who used CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) therapy only 24 percent were hospitalized with the flu.

The study went on to say that using CPAP improved the sleep of those who used it, thereby strengthening their immune system well enough to allow fewer patients to avoid hospitalization. Interestingly, many of the patients who were hospitalized (75%) received the flu shot. Researchers believe that the sleep deprivation caused by not adhering to the CPAP therapy caused the vaccine to be less effective.

We’ve said it before, but unfortunately, CPAP therapy only works if you use it. The problem with this is that many people don’t use it, because many people find it cumbersome and uncomfortable. Though the study did not include sleep appliances, it goes without saying that improving your sleep via any means will help boost your immune system, thereby hopefully lessening the severity of illness should you contract one.

Sleep appliances are often considered more effective than CPAP because they’re more comfortable, thus making them more likely to be used. If you have sleep apnea and have been avoiding your CPAP, or if you simply have not treated this condition, speak to Dr. Mingus about customizing a sleep appliance just for you.