As we enter 2021 and COVID-19 vaccines are slowly being distributed through the public, all is not yet quiet on the home front. Numbers in certain parts of the country such as Los Angeles county and Maricopa county are soaring and hospitals are nearing max capacity. People  around the world remain wary of contracting the virus, and this is especially true for anyone who is identified as high-risk.

While researchers are currently exploring the idea of OSA (obstructive sleep apnea) as a potential risk-factor for negative COVID-19 effects, the data isn’t yet rock solid enough to sound the alarm for everyone who suffers from the disorder. However, that isn’t to say you should let your guard down. 

Here’s everything we know about sleep apnea and COVID-19, including expert insights and the safety precautions you should take if you’re particularly concerned during these unnerving times. 

Who Is At Risk Of Contracting COVID-19?

After studying evidence on how the virus behaves and the infection/death rates of certain individuals, the CDC has identified these conditions as increased risk-factors: 

  • Old Age
  • Cancer
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Down syndrome 
  • COPD
  • Obesity
  • Pregnancy
  • Smoking
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Type 2 diabetes 
  • Smoking 

They also have a list of individuals who may be at an increased risk, and stress that they’re actively being updated as they learn new information. With that being said, sleep apnea isn’t mentioned on either list because there isn’t enough data to suggest that the condition alone is enough to increase your chances of falling ill to coronavirus. There are, however, certain underlying conditions common in people with sleep apnea that are linked to a high risk of contracting COVID-19. 

How Sleep Apnea Is Associated With COVID-19 

In a study published in September 2020, researchers sought to find the relationship between obstructive sleep apnea, severe COVID infections, and hospitalizations. In the end, results showed that there were more COVID hospitalizations for people with obstructive sleep apnea than infected individuals without the sleeping disorder. Furthermore, people with OSA in this study were more likely to progress to respiratory failure. 

Despite these findings, experts in the field aren’t yet convinced that this study is enough evidence to objectively label obstructive sleep apnea as a high risk-factor. This is primarily because of the many comorbidities between covid and sleep apnea patients.

What The Experts Want You To Know About Sleep Apnea and The Coronavirus 

Sleep apnea is most prevalent in obese individuals and those who are over 50-years-old, but on the other side of the token, older adults and obese individuals are at the highest risk of COVID-19 infection. Dr Boon, otolaryngologist and co-director of the Voice and Swallowing Center said “about 85% of people who have sleep apnea are considered medically obese, and we know now that obesity can cause more severe COVID-19 complications.” 

There are also other common underlying health conditions found in sleep apnea patients that put them at risk of a negative outcome after contracting the virus. 

As explained by Dr. Doghramji, medical director of the Jefferson Sleep Disorders Center,  “people with sleep apnea tend to have other medical conditions, such as heart disease and cerebral vascular disease or stroke.” He adds, “plus, many sleep apnea patients are older and frail, which puts them in high-risk categories. It is these underlying comorbidities that predispose people to COVID-19, not the sleep apnea itself.”

Whilst it’s possible, there needs to be more hard evidence that links sleep apnea itself to negative coronavirus implications. That isn’t to say, however, that you shouldn’t be overly cautious when it comes to protecting your health. 

Using And Cleaning Your CPAP Machine 

If you use a CPAP machine as treatment for your sleep apnea and you think you may be suffering from coronavirus symptoms, it’s important to take the proper precautions to keep you and your family safe. 

Current evidence suggests that COVID-19 may have the ability to transmit to someone else through the machine’s respiratory port, so isolation in a separate room while sleeping is crucial to prevent spreading the virus. You should also regularly clean your CPAP machine, considering the virus can stay on solid surfaces for up to several days. 

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends you clean your CPAP machine by following these steps: 

  1. Wash your hands every time you use your CPAP machine — before and after. 
  2. Follow manufacturer instructions to properly clean your CPAP machine. (We recommend using warm filtered water, mild soap, and a large tub or bucket). 
  3. Change out the filters and accessories according to manufacturer instructions.
  4. Prevent anyone from smoking in your home.
  5. Use clean, drink-safe water in your humidifier.
  6. Keep your pets and animals away from your CPAP machine.