Asthma and Sleep Apnea: The Relationship Between the Two

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Did you know that over nineteen million individuals are currently living with asthma?

While asthma is manageable for many, a small percentage of those with asthma experience severe symptoms that can affect how they live their lives. For those with severe asthma, symptoms can worsen over time and even develop into other respiratory conditions.

But, what is the connection between asthma and sleep apnea? While asthma and sleep apnea share some common risk factors, they differ significantly in terms of treatment.

As such, an early diagnosis of the symptoms—and an awareness of their connection—is crucial if you are living with either condition.

Let’s dive into the connection between the two respiratory conditions.

What Is Asthma?

Asthma is a respiratory condition that causes shortness of breath and coughing. These symptoms arise because the airway in your lungs becomes inflamed, causing them to swell up.

Some people also experience increased mucus production. When the airways are too swollen, it can cause an asthma attack, which can occur during exercise or allergy season.

Asthma can be controlled with medication. The severity of asthma can vary from person to person. For some people, it’s minor, and for others, it’s a life-threatening condition.

What Is Sleep Apnea?

Obstructive Sleep Apnea, or OSA, is a respiratory condition that makes it more difficult for your diaphragm to pull air into your lungs. This occurs because something blocks your upper airway while you sleep—either partially or entirely.

The block varies from person to person. However, for most people, it occurs because the muscles which control breathing relax too much.

This leads to a narrowing of the throat. Other causes of the block include swollen tonsils, obesity, heart disease, and endocrine disorders.

How Asthma and Sleep Apnea Are Related

One study, in particular, suggests that individuals with asthma are more prone to developing Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) than the general population. This is because nasal obstruction and a heightened chance of airway collapsibility are two features of asthma. Both of these features increase your predisposition for sleep apnea.

Some researchers also believe that the corticosteroids used in asthma medication may also increase the likelihood of developing Obstructive Sleep Apnea.

Conversely, researchers believe that untreated sleep apnea can worsen the symptoms of asthma. This is due to intermittent hypoxia. Hypoxia is a medical condition in which the body is deprived of adequate oxygen.

Intermittent hypoxia is a unique case in which the body alternates between an adequate supply of oxygen during the day and an inadequate supply at night. Intermittent hypoxia can inflame the lung tissue and make it more difficult for you to control your asthma.

Can a CPAP Machine Help Asthma?

Yes—a CPAP machine can help relieve asthma symptoms, in addition to OSA. Ultimately, this is because the two conditions are tied so closely together.

One study suggests that using a CPAP machine can help to improve lung function, asthma control, and the quality of life for those with both asthma and OSA. However, it will not cure your asthma condition.

Can Asthma Cause Snoring?

Sleep apnea isn’t the only thing that is often closely related to snoring. Asthma can also be responsible due to the congestion that is often associated with asthma.

As such, when you have allergy-induced asthma, it can clog up your nose and cause snoring. If you find yourself waking up with a scratchy or sore throat, talk to your doctor to get to the root cause of your snoring.


Asthma and sleep apnea both involve breathing disorders but ultimately differ from person to person. If you find yourself waking up throughout the night gasping for air, talk with your doctor to uncover if a sleep study is your next step to get on your way to a better night of sleep.

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