According to a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, adults with asthma are more at risk for developing sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea is a breathing disorder characterized by an obstruction of the breathing channels during sleep. It’s been linked to low quality sleep, heart problems and other alarming health conditions, but this is the first time it’s been linked to asthma.
The study followed the 550 male and female participants in the Wisconsin Sleep Cohort Study, which began in 1988 when all participants were between the ages of 30 and 60. Researchers asked the participants to complete general health questionnaires and an overnight laboratory sleep test every four years.
Approximately 15% of the participants had asthma. After the first four years of the study, researchers found that 27% of the patients with asthma had recently developed sleep apnea, compared with only 16% of the non-asthmatic patients.
Once the full study data was in, researchers discovered that asthma patients were at a nearly 40% greater risk for developing obstructive sleep apnea than patients without asthma. Researchers also determined that patients who had suffered from asthma for a longer period of time were at an even greater risk for developing sleep apnea.
The authors of the study point out that, while the results show a definite correlation between asthma and sleep apnea, that doesn’t necessarily mean that one causes the other. They did write that the findings “lend further support to a potential causal role of asthma in OSA development,” but more work needs to be done to determine a definite link.
The authors pointed to inflammatory mechanisms, upper airway compromise and alterations to pharyngeal airway patency as potential links in the chain between asthma and sleep apnea.
“Studies investigating the mechanisms underlying this association and the value of periodic OSA evaluation in patients with asthma are warranted,” the authors concluded.