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Sleep apnea could improve flu outcomes

Posted on March 1st, 2021

The American Journal of Managed Care recently reported on a new study that links sleep apnea treatments to improved flu outcomes. The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, looked at 53 patients with OSA who had confirmed flu cases in the 2016, 2017, and 2018 flu seasons. 

Patients who did not comply with their CPAP treatment plans were found to be five times more likely to be hospitalized with the flu, even though this group was more likely to have received the flu vaccine than the group that was CPAP compliant. 

Researchers hypothesize that poorly controlled OSA impedes immune function, leading to more severe flu cases even among the vaccinated. In fact, immune changes brought on by untreated OSA may even make vaccines less effective.

What do the findings on OSA and the flu mean for my patients? 

This study highlights the importance of identifying and treating patients with sleep apnea, especially among populations who are more at risk from the flu, like children, the elderly, and people with asthma. It also means it’s not enough to prescribe a CPAP and assume all is well.   Check up on your patients. Ask about their CPAP use. If they are having trouble complying, find out why.   

Offer alternatives to non-compliant patients, like an oral appliance. While the CPAP is the first line of treatment for most patients with OSA, it doesn’t work for everyone. Since many patients feel ashamed about their lack of compliance, they may hesitate to mention it at an appointment.  Be prepared to be supportive and to offer alternatives.

Finally, as we await the Coronavirus vaccine, the findings on untreated OSA and vaccine effectiveness are worrying. Our most vulnerable patients need immune systems that can react appropriately to vaccines. Talk to your patients about the risks of untreated OSA, remind them to get vaccinated, and encourage them to get treated so those vaccines can be effective.

If you don’t yet have an OSA screening and treatment program in your practice, it’s time to start one. Learn more about how to implement a program that saves lives while growing your practice.

Dr. Meghna Dassani has practiced dentistry for over two decades and is passionate about the role dentists play in whole-body health. You can learn more at her website:

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