Man asleep with CPAPIn the largest observational study of pneumonia in people who have sleep apnea, it was found that people with sleep apnea were at an increased risk of developing pneumonia. And it was found that CPAP might increase your risk still further.

A Large Observational Study

This study of sleep apnea and pneumonia followed a total of 34,100 patients (6816 people with sleep apnea and 27,284 controls) from January 1, 2000 to December 31, 2010. Over the 11 years of the study, 8.09% of patients developed pneumonia, although the average follow-up time was only 4.5 years. The rate of pneumonia among people with sleep apnea was 9.36%, and 7.77% for controls. After adjusting for known risk factors associated with pneumonia, it was found that sleep apnea led to a 20% increase in pneumonia risk, and that patients who were on CPAP therapy were even more likely to get pneumonia.

Why Sleep Apnea Increases Pneumonia Risk

Pneumonia is a lung infection that can be disabling or deadly. It occurs when bacteria or a virus gets into your lungs, and your body is unable to fight off the infection. This results in swelling and fluid accumulation in the lungs that can make it difficult or impossible for you to breathe.

Sleep apnea increases your risk of infection because it makes it more likely that you will suck fluid from your throat into your lungs when struggling to breathe. The frequent sleep interruptions also impair your immune system.

Why CPAP Increases Pneumonia Risk

CPAP can increase your risk of pneumonia even further because it can basically blow bacteria and viruses into your lungs. This increases the risk that a simple upper respiratory tract infection (anything from the common cold to strep throat) will develop into pneumonia.

Researchers also noted that the CPAP machine and in particular a humidifier might serve as a source of bacteria that could result in pneumonia. They noted, “for patients receiving CPAP therapy, every effort should be made to minimize the risk of pneumonia, such as enhanced cleaning of CPAP tubing and humidifier, and vigilance if recurrent pneumonia is noted among CPAP users.”

CPAP Alternatives

For people who are having trouble with CPAP, alternatives do exist. Oral appliance therapy can help keep your airway open to control sleep apnea without the additional force that can drive infection into your lungs.

If you want to learn whether oral appliance therapy is right for you, please call 402-493-4175 to schedule an appointment at the Advanced Dental Sleep Treatment Center in Omaha.