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Sleep Apnea and Breathing Problems: Are They Linked?

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You might wonder whether Sleep Apnea and breathing problems are connected. While Sleep Apnea is a sleep problem, it is also a problem affecting your breathing while you sleep. Specifically, you stop breathing while sleeping for short periods of time.

While Sleep Apnea affects your breathing, is it the same as other breathing problems or respiratory issues? Let’s explore any connection there may be between Sleep Apnea and breathing problems.

How Does Sleep Apnea Work?

Sleep Apnea includes apneas, or apnea events, which mean that your airway is blocked making it so you can’t breathe. Your brain wants your body to breathe, but your lungs are not taking in any air. When your brain finally realizes the problem, it wakes you up so you can begin breathing again. Once you are awake, you do resume breathing normally.

There are a few types of Sleep Apnea. The most common type, which is the one that includes blockages of the airway, is officially called Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute explains that Sleep Apnea can have many causes that include obesity, premature birth, heart failure or various others. Learn more about Sleep Apnea causes and symptoms.

According to the Canadian Lung Association, Sleep Apnea can lead to cognitive function decline, sleepiness during the day and a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, early death, and other problems. Also, learn how Sleep Apnea can lead to memory problems in this Sleep Apnea article. These problems can occur when the problem is left untreated, but this problem can be treated with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) or sometimes alternate treatments for less severe cases.

Is Sleep Apnea a Respiratory Disorder?

Sleep Apnea is considered a sleep disorder because it affects you during sleep rather than all the time. With this disorder, your breathing is interrupted while you sleep, for up to 30 seconds or even longer at a time. This can happen all night, causing as many as hundreds of disruptions to your breathing and sleep. The result is that your brain and body can lack proper oxygen levels and you lose sleep, which is important to health.

While it is a sleep disorder, Sleep Apnea syndrome is included in the list of chronic respiratory diseases by the World Health Organization (WHO) in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD). According to the National Cancer Institute, a respiratory disease is simply a disease involving the respiratory system, including the lungs. So Sleep Apnea is generally classified as a sleep disorder in America, yet it can be seen as a respiratory disease as well and is classified as such in the ICD.

Think You May Have Sleep Apnea? Take Our FREE Sleep Apnea Quiz!

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Can Sleep Apnea Cause Breathing Problems?

Are there Sleep Apnea lung damage and breathing problems related to this problem? Sleep Apnea does create breathing problems, causing you to stop breathing while sleeping. Nonetheless, Sleep Apnea related illness also includes other respiratory problems.

A review in the journal Lung found that numerous high-quality studies showed that approximately 20 percent of people with Sleep Apnea syndrome also have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The review also noted that pulmonary hypertension, which is high blood pressure that impacts the lungs and part of the heart, and other heart and lung function have been shown to improve when the apnea problem is taken care of.

The Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine explained that COPD and OSA can be co-occurring (in other words, a person has both of them together). Each condition has the ability to worsen the other, and together they can increase the risk of death. It’s also possible for someone to have co-occurring OSA and asthma. Therefore, Sleep Apnea can be a multidimensional problem that also involves other respiratory conditions, such as asthma or COPD, that needs to be addressed on an individual level.

So, can Sleep Apnea cause lung problems? These studies aren’t showing that Sleep Apnea is the cause of respiratory problems but rather that Sleep Apnea and respiratory problems can co-occur and worsen each other. Also, treatment of one can affect that of the other. It’s important to manage COPD or other respiratory conditions to improve Sleep Apnea, and vice versa.

While Sleep Apnea is a sleep disorder, it is also a respiratory problem. In addition, you could have both Sleep Apnea and breathing problems of other sorts at the same time, which means that you need individualized treatment that covers the full scope of your personal health picture.

Want to know other important facts about Sleep Apnea? Keep learning useful information on CPAP and Sleep Apnea, plus gain savings on equipment by subscribing to our CPAP.com newsletter.



  • David Repasky

    David Repasky has been using CPAP treatment since 2017 and has first-hand experience with what it's like to live with Sleep Apnea. He brings the patient's perspective to the CPAP.com blog and has received formal training in CPAP machines, masks, and equipment.

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3 Responses

  1. For the purposes of preventing and/or treating coronovirus, is sleep apnea considered a respiratory illness?

    1. Hi Phil, sleep apnea, is considered a respiratory illness, and/or a sleep disorder. However, you must speak with your doctor to confirm if the same treatment used to treat sleep apnea, will help to prevent, or treat coronovirus.

      For further questions, or concerns, please reach us at: 1-800-356-5221, or you may e-mail us at: cpap@cpap.com.

      Best Wishes!

  2. I never thought of the correlation between Sleep Apnea and respiratory issues. Obviously it makes sense. On the topic of Sleep Apnea and weight – you don’t have to be overweight to have it. I’m just a little underweight and have it. I tried a CPAP machine years ago without success. I recently heard of another type of machine that’s supposed to help but off of the top of my head I can’t remember the name of it. APAP? When things calm down (the Corona virus) I’m going to talk to my Asthma Dr about the Apnea as I can’t remember if I have told him about it.

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