Obstructive sleep apnea and asthma have long been closely connected. A study conducted by researchers from the University of Chicago Medical Center has discovered another link between the two conditions. The group of scientists discovered that surgical forms of treatment for obstructive sleep apnea can alleviate severe asthma symptoms. Children who had received a tonsillectomy or an adenoid removal experienced a drastic decrease in acute asthma symptoms up to a year after their operation. Many patients who suffer from chronic asthma conditions are 41% as likely to develop obstructive sleep apnea as those without. The findings of this study, published in the medical journal PLOS medicine, could significantly help in treating both asthma and apnea patients.
Obstructive sleep apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea is the most widespread class of sleep apnea disorders. It is categorized by breathing difficulties caused by obstructions in the upper respiratory airways. Patients experience periodic breathing difficulties while trying to sleep, which can last for as long as 40 seconds. Obstructive sleep apnea is believed to be influenced by age, muscle tone, and any previous instances of brain injury. Patients with syndromes that result in deformed facial features, such as Down syndrome, are at a higher risk for developing apnea. Apnea may also develop as a complication to certain pharyngeal surgeries. The most common form of treatment for OSA is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy. Surgeries produce permanent anatomical changes that eliminate apnea symptoms. Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty, for example, involves removing tissue from the uvula or soft palate to decrease blockage.
Connection to asthma
Obstructive sleep apnea is one of the most common symptoms among asthma patients. It is associated with a progressively worsening condition and is perceived as a sign of a lack of control over asthma. Many severe asthma attacks tend to happen at night, thus it is common for apnea to be one of the disruptive nocturnal symptoms among patients. Additionally, patients with asthma tend to experience worse cases of obstructive apnea than those that do not have asthma. Either condition can be used as a diagnostic precursor to help predict instances of the other. Children who experience asthma at an early age are more likely to develop apnea as they grow older, with the likelihood of apnea developing after 8 years as high as 72%.
Effects of apnea surgery
Rakesh Bhattacharjee, the lead author of the Chicago study, claimed that their goal was to discover a definitive way to connect the two conditions that would help in the treatment and diagnosis of both. The team of researchers gathered as much as 40,000 children at a peak age of 17. Approximately 13,506 of the children had undergone either adenoid or tonsil removal to treat obstructive sleep apnea. The remaining 27,012 children were suffering from asthma and still had their adenoids and tonsils. The researchers studied the children who had undergone surgery and observed the occurrence of asthma symptoms a year before and after their operation. Instances of acute asthma attacks fell by as much as 38 percent after the surgery. Among the children that did not have surgery, asthma symptoms decreased only by 7 percent in the same period. The likelihood of secondary asthma outbreaks also decreased drastically.
Results of the study
Bhattacharjee claimed that the findings of the study will help encourage more physicians to recommend surgery, both as a treatment to eliminate obstructive sleep apnea symptoms and to help significantly relieve asthma. The information discovered can assist scientists in developing future forms of asthma treatments, while helping to prevent children from becoming dependent on medication.