There are many mysteries surrounding the novel coronavirus and the condition it causes, termed COVID-19. One of the biggest, however, is why some people experience relatively minor symptoms while others develop severe symptoms requiring hospitalization in the ICU and potentially leading to death. 

Now researchers in Finland believe they might have found at least part of the answer: sleep apnea. In a preprint study available on medRxiv, researchers found that sleep apnea was disproportionately associated with severe COVID-19 symptoms. 

Sleep Apnea 10 Times More Likely in COVID Patients

woman sleeping on her back, snoring loudly For this study, researchers in the relatively unimpacted area of Finland looked at all 28 COVID-19 patients admitted to Turku University Hospital by the third of May. 

They evaluated patients for baseline characteristics that might be linked to their severe symptoms, and found that 29% of patients had sleep apnea, which had been diagnosed an average of 2.5 years before. Since only 3% of people in Finland have sleep apnea, they felt this was an obvious potential risk factor. 

Other preconditions linked with severe COVID-19 were hypertension, obesity, diabetes, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder. Although many of the patients were severely obese, researchers claimed this didn’t account for the severe symptoms, since obesity is relatively common in the Finnish population.

Of the 28 COVID-19 patients, 7 were admitted to the ICU. The biggest distinguishing factor between the ICU and the non-ICU groups were the levels of c-reactive protein (CRP) and procalcitonin (PCT), common markers of chronic inflammation. 

The ICU group also had lower oxygen saturation than the non-ICU group: 87% vs. 93%. 

Based on these findings, researchers suggest that sleep apnea makes people more likely to develop severe COVID-19 symptoms because it is associated with lower oxygen saturation, contributes to chronic inflammation, and leads to other potential risk factors, such as hypertension

Treat These Findings with Caution

We strongly believe that the chronic health problems linked to sleep apnea put people at risk. However, we have to caution about putting too much faith in this study. 

First, the study is only a preprint, which means that it hasn’t passed peer review to be accepted for publication in a journal. Since the preprint went live in mid-May, but the article hasn’t been accepted to any major journal, this increases our skepticism. Many medical journals are expediting review of articles about COVID-19, and it seems that if this article were going to pass muster, it already would have done so. 

And it wouldn’t be surprising if this article didn’t pass peer review. The sample size of the population is very small. With just 28 people, it’s hard to tell whether their findings are significant or random. Even a tenfold increase in risk is hard to distinguish from random chance in a population of this size. 

Sleep Apnea Treatment Helps You Stay Healthy

We can’t be sure that sleep apnea is specifically linked to severe COVID-19 symptoms. However, we can say that sleep apnea treatment is good for your overall health and can help you combat factors that could lead to severe COVID-19 symptoms, including hypertension and chronic inflammation. Sleep apnea treatment helps you fight off all illnesses, including COVID-19. 

To learn more about how we care keeping patients safe, please call (402) 493-4175 today for an appointment with a sleep dentist at the Advanced Dental Sleep Treatment Center.