Concern Over Sleep Apnea and Coronavirus Transmission


Telemedicine could be a particularly useful tool for sleep doctors as the COVID-19 outbreak continues.

Seema Khosla, MD

Seema Khosla, MD

Sleep apnea patients are particularly concerned about transmitting the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

In an interview with HCPLive®, Seema Khosla, MD, Medical Director of the Center for Sleep, explained that a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device can potentially spread the droplets further than normal breathing, putting loved ones at an increased risk of developing the virus.

Khosla said the best advice is if someone has tested positive for COVID-19 or presumes they have some symptoms of the virus then they should sleep in separate rooms and maintain distances even within the same household.

She also advised to place increased emphasis on washing your hands prior to putting on the CPAP mask.

Overall, sleep apnea patients represent 80-90% of Khosla’s practice.

As the focus in the medical community is currently on treating COVID-19 positive patients and testing as many people as possible, there still are other ailments that must be treated and routine services that are still important.

Khosla said her practice has recently switched to 100% telemedicine to ensure the safety of her staff and patients.

However, she does not expect the services to suffer much as they move into a completely digital practice because most of the patients she treats do not often require urgent care.

“Sleep is different. Sleep kind of suffers some from the lack of urgency,” she said. “How many people go to the ER because they snore? For us, pretty much anything we need to do we can capture in a telemedicine visit anyway.”

However, there is a downside, particularly if the pandemic is ongoing for a long-time, in that sleep doctors are unable to test patients for sleep apnea. Khosla the inability to properly test patients will have a financial impact on sleep centers across the country.

She also said this will likely be true for other speciality centers as well, with signficiant financial hardships for many clinic physicians.

The decline in testing is also causing delays in care for patients as doctors cannot put them on treatment programs until testing is available.

Maintaining some normalcy in the new environment of working from home could pay dividends.

In an interview with HCPLive®, Navya Singh, PysD, Columbia University, explained how people can maintain their mental health as they are pretty much confined to their homes during the emergency situation.

“Wake up at the same time in the morning, even if you're working in the next room,” Singh said. “Normalcy is important because the situation is so difficult and outside the realm of what's normal existence. Even the children, try to have the same schedule as they had in school, even if you’re homeschooling.”

Khosla said an increased focus on sleep is necessary because more and more people are self-isolating and working from home, which could disrupt their sleep patterns.

“I think it’s two-fold,” Khosla said. “So, there's a lot of anxiety about it, people are worried about this, worried about their relatives. But the flip side is our kids are at home, and they're not on a routine and so that gets us out of our routine. So, then we start to naturally start to sleep in and stay up a little bit longer.”

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