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How Sleep Apnea Can Cause Asthma

Posted Oct 28 2010 4:47am

You may be thinking that I’m stretching things a bit by suggesting that obstructive sleep apnea can cause asthma, but there are numerous published studies linking these two conditions. A recent study published in Chest showed that poorly controlled adult asthmatics had a much higher chance of having undiagnosed obstructive sleep apnea—almost 3 times higher.

Here are 3 ways that sleep apnea can aggravate or cause asthma:

1. It’s been shown that repeated apneas can cause a vacuum effect in the throat that can suction up your normal stomach juices into your throat. This “juice” contains not only acid, but also bile, digestive enzymes, and bacteria. Furthermore, these same juices can reach the nose, sinuses, ears and the lungs. Washings of these areas have demonstrated the presence of pepsin, one of the digestive enzymes, and H. pylori, a common stomach bacteria. Even small amounts of stomach juice in your lungs can definitely cause major inflammation.

2. Repeated obstructions and arousals can cause your involuntary nervous system to become hypersensitive to weather changes, such as temperature, humidity, and pressure changes. You can also be sensitive to chemicals, scents or odors. This condition in the nose is called nonallergic or chronic rhinitis. In the lungs, the equivalent is probably what we call reactive airway disease. Allergists and asthma researchers have stated that the nose and lungs are essentially one airway, and have coined the phrase, “one airway, one disease.”

3. If you’ve ever experienced dirt or dust in one of your eyes, the you’ll tear in the other eye as well. Similarly, if your nose is irritated, then by applying the concept of “one airway, one disease,” your lungs will become inflamed. Conversely, if you place some stomach acid in your lungs, then your nose will automatically become inflamed through this reflexive process. Having a stuffy nose can create a vacuum effect downstream, promoting even more frequent tongue collapse, leading to more obstructions, and to more reflex episodes.

How many of you with obstructive sleep apnea also have asthma?

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