COVID and sleep apnea

Posted by watchmen
July 13, 2022
Posted in OPINION

(By Dr. Joseph D. Lim and Dr. Kenneth Lester Lim, BS-MMG, DDM, MSc-OI)


Adults with sleep apnea may be at higher risk for severe COVID-19 and death from the virus, the United Press International (UPI) reports.

The U.S. National Sleep Foundation estimates that 18 million Americans have sleep apnea. (We have no figures for the Philippines.)

Sleep apnea causes breathing interruptions throughout the sleep cycle. The interruptions last from a few seconds to minutes; they may occur 30 or more times every hour.

The interruptions happen when the muscles in the back of the throat are flaccid, the tongue is too large, or the jaw is too small. All these obstruct the airway.

One common symptom of sleep apnea is tooth grinding (“bruxism” to doctors).

This is why dentists are on the front line in the detection of the sleep disorder. Dentists watch out for tooth surfaces that are worn or broken because of repeated grinding. Because damaged teeth are susceptible to bacterial infection, cavities may also be a sign of sleep apnea.

A spike in cavities can be a sign of grinding because the force damages teeth, making them susceptible to cavity-causing bacteria. Dentists also look for inflamed and receding gums. Other indicators include a small jaw, tongue with scalloped edges, or red throat caused by too much snoring.

Because sleep apnea causes difficulty in breathing, it wakes people up repeatedly during the night resulting in tiredness and a bad sleeping experience.

Sleep apnea may also lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.

The UPI report cited a study published by the JAMA Network Open which found that those with the common sleep disorder are 31 percent more likely to be hospitalized after being infected with the COVID virus. Data showed that a third or 31 percent is more likely to die from it, UPI said.

Sleep apnea doesn’t increase the risk of COVID infection, nor does it increase a person’s risk for infection, UPI said, citing the study’s researchers.

Researchers analyzed data on more than 350,000 adults tested for COVID-19 within the Cleveland Clinic Health System, in Ohio and Florida, between March and November 2020.

A little over 5,400 of those tested for COVID-19 had undergone a prior evaluation for sleep apnea.

Among those previously assessed for sleep apnea, 1,935, or 36 percent, tested positive for the virus. Of those infected with the virus, 1,018 or 53 percent met the criteria for sleep apnea.

Some 1,646, or 47 percent of the participants who tested negative for the virus had signs of the sleep disorder.

Study participants who had both COVID-19 and sleep apnea were hospitalized with the virus at a 31 percent higher rate than those infected who did not have the sleep disorder, according to the study. Those with both conditions were 31 percent more likely to die from the virus, the study showed.

According to UPI, researchers think the disruption in oxygen flow caused by sleep apnea leads to increased inflammation in key organs such as the lungs and heart. This may cause more severe COVID-19 although further research is needed to confirm the possibility.


Dr. Joseph D. Lim is the former Associate Dean of the College of Dentistry, University of the East; former Dean, College of Dentistry, National University; Past President and Honorary Fellow of the Asian Oral Implant Academy; Honorary Fellow of the Japan College of Oral Implantologists; and Honorary Life Member of the Thai Association of Dental Implantology. For questions on dental health, e-mail or text 0917-8591515.


Dr. Kenneth Lester Lim, BS-MMG, DDM, MSc-OI, graduated Doctor of Dental Medicine, University of the Philippines College of Dentistry, Manila, 2011; Bachelor of Science in Marketing Management, De la Salle University, Manila, 2002; and Master of Science (MSc.) in Oral Implantology, Goethe University, Frankfurt, Germany, 2019. He is an Associate professor; Fellow, International Congress of Oral Implantologists; Member, American Academy of Implant Dentistry and Philippine College of Oral Implantologists. For questions on dental health, e-mail

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