Living in a polluted city might not just be bad for your lungs, it could also be affecting your sleep. A new study suggests a connection between air pollution and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a condition where breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep.

The research, published in the International Neurotoxicology Association journal, looked at data from twelve different studies to understand the link. While the evidence isn't conclusive yet, the researchers found a reason to believe that air pollutants, particularly nitrogen dioxide (NO2), might be contributing to a higher risk and severity of OSA.

NO2 is a common gas pollutant produced by traffic fumes and the burning of fossil fuels. The study suggests that exposure to NO2 could worsen existing sleep apnea or even increase the chances of developing it altogether.

The researchers haven't pinpointed the exact mechanism behind this link, but they propose a few possibilities. Air pollution can

irritate and inflame the upper airway, making it more likely to collapse during sleep, a hallmark of OSA. Additionally, pollutants might disrupt the nervous system's control of breathing.

"These pathophysiological changes are known to contribute to the development and exacerbation of respiratory disorders. In the context of OSA, air pollution may aggravate upper airway inflammation and dysfunction, thereby increasing the propensity for airway collapse during sleep," the study reads. "It is important to note that effects of air pollutants may vary based on the type of pollutant, duration of exposure, and individual susceptibility factors, including age, gender, and underlying health conditions," it adds. 

This study adds to a growing body of research suggesting that air pollution can have a wider impact on our health than previously thought. More work is needed to confirm the link between pollution and OSA, but these findings highlight the potential dangers of breathing dirty air.
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