Treating obstructive sleep apnoea will help asthmatics

Trouble with breathing is becoming an increasingly widespread problem. Respiratory health worldwide is being challenged by poor air quality, substandard living conditions, and economic development. One result of this is a major increase in both asthma and obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA).

Close-up of a young woman using asthma inhaler in the park

As pulmonary issues like asthma become more prevalent in our population, the links to other potentially related conditions have also gained clarity. A newly published study observed the link between patients diagnosed with asthma and those potentially developing obstructive sleep apnoea.

Much like asthmatic patients can be affected by apnoea, the authors of some major new research noted that those with sleep apnoea can have greater effects from asthma, and that the treatment of one helps the other.

Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) occurs when a person stops breathing in their sleep due to blocked air passageways. It can also be responsible for excessive snoring. OSA and snoring typically occur because muscles and tissues in oral and nasal passages become too relaxed, leading to narrowed air passages. The condition can lead to severe health issues — and even sudden death — because of lack of oxygen to the brain.

Gasping for air during sleep, and teeth grinding are common symptoms of the disorder. Sleep apnoea can cause some individuals to stop breathing altogether for periods of 10 to 90 seconds or longer, and momentarily wake up at various times of the night, when left untreated,

OSA can heighten the risk of developing a variety of serious health issues, including heart attacks, strokes, high blood pressure, insomnia, memory loss, and diabetes. It can also be responsible for sudden cardiac death in sleep.

The research study into the Asthma & OSA relationship was conducted in the USA across 24 years, with a panel that underwent sleep studies every four years, and using respondents who were initially not suffering from OSA.

Over a thousand sleep studies were used on a panel that was 48% male and 52% female and had an average age of fifty years.

The key results were:

  • Of those who were diagnosed with asthma, over 25% developed OSA in the first four years alone which grew to twice that level over time.
  • Asthmatic patients who developed ‘new’ OSA in this way also reported habitual daytime sleepiness as a problem.
  • Amongst non- sufferers of asthma, newly developed levels of OSA were much lower at around 8% – although still a significant number.

While individually each condition presented its own set of challenges for treatment, the combined effect of both can be even more damaging.   “Accumulating evidence suggests a bidirectional relationship between asthma and OSA, whereby each disorder deleteriously influences the other,” the report said. “In cross-sectional epidemiologic studies, the prevalence of sleepiness, snoring, and sleep apnoea were significantly higher in participants with asthma.” Much like asthmatic patients can be affected by OSA, the authors noted that those with apnoea can have greater effects from asthma, and that the treatment of one can help the other.

Simple oral appliances go much of the way to improving the situation for sufferers of these two dangerous conditions and can event prevent the onset, as well as reverse OSA, if they are used early enough.


John Redfern