People with sleep apnea face higher risk of pneumonia: study

Devin Sauer / Global News

CALGARY- A large cohort study from Taiwan has found sleep apnea can now be considered a risk factor for developing pneumonia.

People with obstructive sleep apnea may stop breathing dozens of times each night and are unable to experience restful sleep. The condition has already been linked to other health problems, including heart disease and cognitive impairment.

“We hypothesized sleep apnea may predispose the development of pneumonia, so we conducted nationwide population-based study to explore their relationship” explains Dr.  Vincent Yi-Fong Su, one of the study’s co-authors from Taipei.

Taiwanese researchers followed over 34,000 patients, including 6,818 who had sleep apnea over the course of 11 years. Those who experienced the obstructive sleep problem were 20 per cent more likely to develop pneumonia.

“We also demonstrated an ‘exposure-response relationship,’ in that the patients with more severe sleep apnea might have a higher risk of pneumonia than did those of milder severity,” says Su.

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Researchers also found sleep apnea treatment did not decrease the risk of pneumonia and could actually increases a patient’s chances of getting sick.

“Continuous positive airway pressure is a highly effective treatment for sleep apnea but it does not reduce the risk of pneumonia in this study,” explains Su. “Instead, the use of CPAP or accessory equipment, such as a humidifier, could favour the development of airway infections.”

Su adds CPAP may stop patients from coughing through the night but it won’t prevent them from breathing in fluids.  As a result, he recommends sleep specialists minimize the risk of pneumonia by ensuring CPAP tubing and humidifiers are kept clean and being vigilant if recurrent pneumonia was noted among CPAP users.

The study was published in the Canadian Medical Association  Journal.