A recent article published in Pulmonology Advisor addressed recent studies that suggest untreated OSA may contribute to worse outcomes for patients with COVID-19. The studies found that between 21 and 28% of patients admitted to the ICU with COVID-19 suffered from OSA. The novel coronavirus appears to exacerbate hypoxemia from OSA, and as a result, patients are more likely to need a high level of care to survive. Researchers also suggested that sleep deprivation from conditions like OSA could put patients at a higher risk of pneumonia if they contract COVID-19.
The risk of pneumonia may also be increased because sleep deprivation triggers an inflammatory process in the body, and in the lungs in particular. This may put patients at a greater risk for a cytokine storm if they contract COVID-19.
Poor OSA Treatment Compliance Could Increase Risk
Also, past studies have shown that sleep deprivation can impair a person's response to vaccination, resulting in less than full immunity. Patients with untreated OSA may be both at risk for greater complications from COVID and less likely to benefit from a vaccine. This is especially troubling as OSA becomes more common as people age, and the elderly are already facing a huge risk of death or complications from COVID.
This means that compliance with OSA treatment regimes is not just a matter of long-term health. There is also an immediate risk for patients unable to comply with their current treatment regimes.
When you identify patients who may be having trouble adhering to their current OSA treatment plans, you may save lives. For instance, patients who have a difficult time complying with CPAP therapy may benefit from a switch to oral appliance therapy. All OSA patients might benefit from learning exercises to improve oral-facial muscle tone. By letting patients with OSA know that adhering to a treatment plan can improve COVID outcomes, you can help them make good choices and develop healthy habits.
Many patients have more of a relationship with their dentist and hygienist than they do with their PCP. Your office can make a difference in the lives of your patients with OSA by ensuring that they have treatment plans that fit their lifestyles.