The Connection Between Chronic Lung Disease and Sleep Apnea

Chronic Lung Disease and Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a condition where your breathing repeatedly stops and starts when you’re asleep. These pauses can last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes. Sleep apnea’s most prominent symptoms are loud snoring and less restful sleep, which can make it seem more like a nuisance than a real danger.

However, people who have both sleep apnea and lung disease may be at an increased risk of experiencing more harmful complications, such as oxygen deprivation. This makes sleep apnea become a life-threatening condition.

It’s best to seek treatment for this condition to improve your quality of life and help you maintain your health.

Lung Disease and Snoring Issues

Many people oversimplify sleep apnea and categorize it as just loud snoring, but snoring is only one of the symptoms caused by this very serious condition of apnea.

To understand these effects, it’s important to know the different types of sleep apnea. These are central sleep apnea and obstructive sleep apnea.

Central Sleep Apnea

Central sleep apnea gets its name from the role the central nervous system plays in this form of apnea.

Normally, your brain controls your breathing, even when you’re asleep. When you have central sleep apnea, your brain periodically fails to send the proper signals to your breathing muscles, and you briefly stop breathing.

Central sleep apnea is fairly uncommon compared to obstructive sleep apnea.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

In obstructive sleep apnea, the inability to breathe comes from an obstruction in your airway. This is typically due to soft tissue, including your tongue, uvula and soft palate, collapsing into the throat. The resulting blockage narrows your airways and creates the characteristic snoring sound.

Hypoxemia and Lung Conditions

In the vast majority of cases, neither type of sleep apnea is inherently dangerous, as regular breathing typically resumes quickly. However, if you are unable to breathe for a significant period of time, you may experience hypoxemia.

Hypoxemia occurs when the amount of oxygen in your blood dips below regular levels. This can become dangerous, since your body’s cells need proper oxygenation to function.

Your risk of hypoxemia may be higher if you experience both sleep apnea and various forms of lung disease. Studies show that around 20% of people with sleep apnea also have COPD, and this combination can increase your chances of having respiratory failure or right heart failure.

If you experience both pulmonary disease and sleep apnea, it is especially important to explore your treatment options.


The most well-known treatment for sleep apnea is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, typically with the use of a CPAP machine. Other treatment strategies focus on finding ways to manage the underlying lung condition causing or contributing to obstructive sleep apnea.


A CPAP machine provides you with mildly pressurized air, which keeps your airways open as it travels through them. This ensures you’re getting proper oxygenation.

Since CPAP is performed while you sleep, there are many home machines you can use. They consist of a motor that supplies and pressurizes air, a tube, and a mask that fits over your nose and mouth.

Addressing Underlying Pulmonary Disease

Obstructive sleep apnea frequently occurs alongside COPD. Together, they make it harder for you to breathe both day and night, interfering with your ability to find relief. A similar phenomenon can occur for those who have apnea and asthma.

The best way to alleviate these issues is to improve your lung health. When you make healthy choices that support your lungs, you’re letting yourself breathe easier.

Lifestyle choices that can alleviate the symptoms of COPD include quitting smoking, eating right, losing weight if you are overweight, and exercising on a regular basis. Some corticosteroids can help you manage COPD symptoms as well.

Some doctors may also recommend the use of supplemental oxygen or a CPAP machine throughout the day.

Final Thoughts

Doctors and sleep therapists alike are still working to alleviate sleep apnea and other contributing conditions for millions of people across the globe. This research could lead to better, more long-term treatment strategies in the future.

For now, if you have sleep apnea or any other type of pulmonary condition, it is always a good idea to discuss solutions with your primary care doctor. They will help you find the treatment plan that is right for you.

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About the Author: Julie Souza

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