Sleep apnea sufferers may be at an increased risk of developing pneumonia, Medical News Today reported.
Sleep apnea occurs when a person’s upper airway is obstructed during sleep, cutting off his or her oxygen supply. This serious sleep disturbance can occur hundreds of times a night and has been linked to heart disease and cognitive impairment.
New research published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal followed more than 340,000 patients from Taiwan’s National Health Insurance Research Database for over 11 years. Within that cohort, 7,000 people had sleep apnea and 27,000 did not.
Among the sleep apnea group, 9.36 percent of participants developed pneumonia compared to 7.77 percent of control participants. Researchers also found that those who developed pneumonia tended to be older and had more illnesses, such as diabetes, heart disease and dementia.
Sleep apnea appears to be an “independent risk factor of incident pneumonia,” researchers wrote. They also concluded that patients with more severe sleep apnea appeared to be at a higher risk for developing pneumonia than those who had milder forms of the condition.
Researchers hypothesized that people with sleep apnea may be more likely to aspirate liquid from the throat into the lungs, causing pneumonia. Furthermore, the sleep apnea group may be at greater risk because disturbed sleep can weaken the immune system.