Sleep apnea has become a real public disease.

Hundreds of thousands of Finns suffer from it, although it is impossible to know the real number.

According to the Respiratory Association, at least 300,000 Finns have sleep apnea.

Most people suffer from sleep apnea unknowingly, says Tarja Saaresranta, Docent, Coordinating Director of the Tyks Sleep and Breathing Center, who is familiar with sleep apnea. Photo: Hanna Oksanen

- In the region of Southwest Finland alone, there are well over 13,000 users of CPAP devices for the treatment of sleep apnea, and about a tenth of the entire Finnish population lives in the region.

In addition, it is known that most people suffer from sleep apnea unknowingly, says Tarja Saaresranta, Docent, the coordinating director of the Tyks Sleep and Breathing Center, who is familiar with sleep apnea.

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Simply put, sleep apnea is a disease in which a person’s breathing is interrupted during sleep.

If there are breaks of more than five per hour, talk about sleep apnea.

In addition, the flow of respiratory air is weaker than in a healthy person.

Corona is a higher risk for a sleep apnea patient

Now, sleep apnea has also been linked to more serious forms of covid-19 disease.

A study conducted by Tyks and the University of Turku in the spring found that sleep apnea patients may be up to ten times more likely to be hospitalized during a coronary infection.

- During the first wave of the pandemic, 29% of those admitted to hospital had a previous diagnosis of sleep apnea.

That’s a lot, considering that only 3.1 percent of the actual Finnish population is treated for sleep apnea, says Thijs Feuth, a physician specializing in lung diseases, LT, the first author of the research article.

Being overweight is one of the risk factors for corona and it also increases the risk of sleep apnea.

However, obesity does not explain the findings made in Turku.

- Even if the factors are considered separately, sleep apnea still stands out as a risk factor for coronary heart disease, which requires hospitalization, says Thijs Feuth.

The study by Tyks and the University of Turku has been published in the International Journal of Sleep Medicine and Disorders (SMDIJ).

According to Feuth, other findings have been received since then, supporting the research results of the Turku group.

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 The pandemic has accelerated the pre-publication of research results because the scientific community wants to know what kind of research is being done elsewhere.

- The pandemic has accelerated the pre-publication of research results because the scientific community wants to know what kind of research is being done elsewhere.

Even preliminary results help to steer research forward.

What makes sleep apnea a risk?

The now published Finnish study is the first in which the suspicion of sleep apnea as a risk factor for coronary infection becomes the most important finding.

Researchers don’t really know what makes sleep apnea a distinct risk factor in Covid19 disease.

Among other things, the study found that CRP levels were higher in patients admitted to intensive care.

Usually, viral disease does not significantly increase value.

- Explaining factors may include chronic, really mild inflammatory conditions or low oxygen levels, which are often seen in sleep apnea patients.

However, no definitive conclusions can be drawn from our data.

Increasingly, young adults are also falling ill

Sleep apnea is most common in middle age, between the ages of 40 and 65, but it is also increasingly common in young adults.

According to Associate Professor Tarja Saaresranta, sleep apnea referrals in the twenties and thirties are growing.

- Often, however, the symptoms do not appear as strongly at a young age as later, when more age and risk factors accumulate.

Being overweight is a significant risk factor.

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 Being overweight is a significant risk factor.

If you want to reduce your risk of sleep apnea, for many it means weight loss.

A healthy diet, exercise, non-smoking and adequate sleep are key.

Alcohol also exacerbates the symptoms of sleep apnea, even when ingested in moderation.

- It could be said that these are these tedious instructions, ie lifestyle repair and good treatment of other diseases also make it easier to treat sleep apnea, Saaresranta says.

Exercise strengthens the respiratory system

Severe sleep apnea is treated with hyperbaric respiratory therapy.

A person with sleep apnea receives a CPAP device as prescribed by a doctor and is placed on the face every night at bedtime.

Adherence to treatment guidelines is especially important during a pandemic.

- Exercise also strengthens the respiratory system, and a person in good condition copes with diseases better than a person in poor condition.

Breathing exercises, on the other hand, have not been found to be of widespread benefit in combating sleep apnea.

- Of course you have to remember the basic instructions: wash your hands, wear a mask and keep your distance.

It is even more important than usual if you belong to a risk group.