The national emergency related to the COVID-19 Pandemic has expired. There are currently less than 20,000 new cases of COVID reported each week in the US, down from a peak of over 800,000 new cases per week in January 2022. Though the disease remained the fourth leading cause of death in 2022, its impact in 2023 will likely be much less. 

However, many people are still struggling with the lingering effects of COVID. So-called Long COVID affects about 6% of Americans, according to estimates by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), one of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Now, NHLBI research reveals that people with sleep apnea may be at an increased risk for Long COVID. Since sleep apnea seemed to put people at increased risk of COVID infection, this is not surprising. 

At the Advanced Dental Sleep Treatment Center, our Omaha sleep dentists can help patients manage their sleep apnea and reduce their risk of complications. We are ready to help you. 

What Is Long COVID?

Long COVID is a common name for what doctors call post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 (PASC). In this condition, people experience symptoms related to COVID infection for weeks, months, and even years later. 

As with sleep apnea, people experience many different PASC symptoms, including:

  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Changes to smell and taste
  • Fever
  • Body aches, headaches, chest pain, stomach pain
  • Brain fog
  • Sleeping difficulties
  • Excessive tiredness
  • Moodiness

Many of these are symptoms people experience when they have COVID, but not all. As a result, some people find it easy to link their Long COVID symptoms to their initial infection, but others might not make the connection at first. 

There are three main profiles for Long COVID. For some people, Long COVID symptoms start while they have COVID and persist beyond their COVID infection. These people find it easy to link their symptoms to COVID. For others, COVID infection may cause significant symptoms that come and pass, but Long COVID symptoms may only surface weeks or months later. Finally, some people may initially experience few COVID symptoms, but then several weeks to months later, Long COVID symptoms arise. These people may have difficulty linking their symptoms to Long COVID. Because they were asymptomatic during their initial infection, they may never have received a COVID diagnosis. 

Sleep Apnea and Long COVID Risk

This new research, conducted by NHLBI with support from NYU Langone Health, shows that people with sleep apnea may be as much as 75% more likely to develop Long COVID symptoms

These findings are based on the health records of more than 2.2 million Americans who had COVID. Researchers drew health records from three diverse populations, including the National COVID Cohort Collaborative (N3C), PCORnet, and PEDSnet, which included health records for children. 

The three populations had different Long COVID rates: 5% in the N3C group, 17% in the PCORnet group, and less than 5% in the PEDSnet group. The N3C group showed the strongest association between sleep apnea and Long COVID. In this group, sleep apnea increased the risk of Long COVID by 75%. Women saw an even greater increased risk. A woman with sleep apnea was 89% more likely to develop Long COVID, while men saw a 59% increased Long COVID risk. In the PCORnet group, sleep apnea only increased the Long COVID risk by 12%. For children, an initial correlation vanished after researchers controlled for other medical conditions. 

Follow-up analysis with additional patients confirmed the significant association between sleep apnea and Long COVID risk. Researchers advised that people with sleep apnea would benefit from additional monitoring after COVID infection. 

Untreated and Undertreated Sleep Apnea Mimics Long COVID

It’s good for people with sleep apnea to take additional precautions when it comes to illnesses like COVID. It’s also important for people to understand that the symptoms they attribute to Long COVID might be due in part to their sleep apnea. Symptoms common between sleep apnea and Long COVID include:

  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Difficulty thinking and remembering
  • Poor sleep
  • Moodiness

As with COVID, many people with sleep apnea never receive a proper diagnosis. These people may spend months or years struggling with symptoms they cannot explain. If you have sleep apnea symptoms, an Omaha sleep dentist can help you get tested for sleep apnea. You can even take a sleep test in the comfort of your own bed. 

Other times, people prescribed a treatment like CPAP might not get full benefit because they: 

  • Don’t use CPAP long enough each night
  • Use CPAP too few nights
  • Don’t wear or maintain CPAP properly

If you have sleep apnea and experience Long COVID symptoms, make sure you have effective sleep apnea treatment. If you’re not using CPAP enough, try to use it more often. If you can’t adapt to CPAP, talk to an Omaha sleep dentist about alternatives, such as oral appliance therapy or Inspire

Adequately treating your sleep apnea will help protect your overall health, and it may reduce symptoms you attribute to Long COVID.

Get Sleep Apnea Treatment in Omaha

Do you have or suspect sleep apnea? At the Advanced Dental Sleep Treatment Center in Omaha, we can help people at all stages of their treatment journey. If you suspect sleep apnea, we can help you get a home sleep test. If your doctor has diagnosed sleep apnea, we can help you consider treatment options. If your doctor prescribed CPAP, but you’re looking for an alternative, we can help you consider other options. 

To learn how we can help, please call (402) 493-4175 or use our online form to request an appointment at the Advanced Dental Sleep Treatment Center, serving Omaha from our office in North Park.