TUESDAY, May 18, 2021 (HealthDay News) — People suffering from severe obstructive sleep apnea are at a greater risk of catching COVID-19, a new study finds.
But researchers at Kaiser Permanente Southern California also found that the longer patients used a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) mask while sleeping, the more their COVID-19 risk dropped.
Of those, nearly 1,500 would test positive for a COVID-19 infection. In all, 224 were hospitalized, and 61 were in the intensive care unit and/or died.
Untreated sleep apnea was associated with a higher rate of COVID-19 infection, the findings showed.
“Greater PAP adherence, when therapy was used at least four hours a night during the pandemic period, also showed a reduced infection rate,” the researchers reported.
The study also linked obesity, more chronic illness, and being on Medicaid to higher COVID-19 infection rates. Black and Hispanic patients also had higher COVID-19 infection rates.
Though elderly people are generally at higher risk for infection with SARS-CoV-2, the study linked increasing age with a reduced infection rate.
The researchers were also surprised that apnea patients who used their CPAP therapy often had even lower COVID-19 infection rates than patients without apnea at all.
“This further supports a direct physiologic benefit of [CPAP] therapy,” Hwang said in a news release from the American Thoracic Society.
Hwang said both biological and behavioral factors may be involved in the relationship between apnea and COVID-19 risk.
“The higher rate of infection with more severe obstructive sleep apnea and the shared medical risk factors between sleep apnea and COVID-19 such as male gender, obesity and presence of cardiovascular diseases supports a biological influence, perhaps through impact on respiratory function, airway inflammation and sleep fragmentation,” he said.
At the same time, the link between older age and reduced COVID infection rates support a behavioral explanation, Hwang said. Patients with apnea tend to be older, and older patients may be more careful about masking, social distancing and other pandemic-related behaviors, he said.