Sleep Apnea and Pneumonia: what role does CPAP play?

A new from Taiwan has reported of a link between the disorder Sleep Apnea and CPAP therapy to increased levels of risk of Pneumonia.

Among the large portion of the world’s population afflicted with sleep related disorders, sleep apnea is one of the most common. This disorder can be described as loss of breath while sleeping or the irregular interruption of breathing while sleeping. This disorder causes snoring, inability to concentrate and memorize, depression, sore throat, lack of rest, and morning headaches. Also, according to recent studies, it can lead to obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and even strokes, all widely known possible deadly conditions.

 According to the report recently published by the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), the Taiwan National Health Insurance Research Database, closely watched a large amount of patients for over a decade. From those 6,800 people participating on this study suffering from sleep apnea, in just five years approximately 2,700 started showing signs and /or developing pneumonia.

As reported by CMAJ’s publication, obstructive sleep apnea is a widespread ailment that affects 20% of Americans. The disease is mainly caused by the collapse of the upper airway during that leads to intermittent low levels of oxygen in the blood (also known as hypoxemia) and sleep fragmentation. People with sleep apnea have been reported to have a considerably high risk of pulmonary aspiration of pharyngeal contents while sleeping.  These factors all directly can present an ideal scenario for the development of illnesses such as Pneumonia.

The study, also uncovered a noteworthy detail. This risk of pneumonia could be increased if the patients went under CPAP therapy (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure). The CPAP machine has been for a while now a popular alternative for people with sleep apnea to help them sleep better. This machine helps clear the airways by a mask placed directly over the nose of the patient, this mask delivers air and prevents the collapse of the upper airway and reduces the levels of snoring on the patient. This new study, has shown that the CPAP machine could lead for pulmonary aspiration, which means that common and natural obstructions, instead of them being coughed out or spat out are breathed in to the lungs. Also, it was pointed out that another factor that could increase the level of risk is the addition of a humidifier to the CPAP Therapy, as it can contribute to bacteriological contamination and thus making the patient exposed to a large risk of pneumonia, that is of course if there is not a proper habit to clean these devices after usage. The authors in charge of the study are hoping that these results could raise the level of awareness among patients under CPAP therapy to take necessary hygienic precautions when using these machines.

The large popularity of CPAP therapy is because it is a great, highly effective, non-invasive way to treat sleep apnea. Many patients have opted for this treatment all over the world with very positive results, but the authors of this study have stated that with the recent results obtained, the CPAP machine usage needs to be accompanied by a strict vigilance by caregivers. And those patients using this machine need to have a careful and clean handling of the machine to reduce any chance for them catching pneumonia. 

Related Read: What is the best solution for sleep apnea?