How do I know if I have sleep apnea?

Many people come to see me for various different types of sleep disorder. The most obvious problem to them is snoring. You do not really have to have a medical degree to diagnose somebody with snoring. Often time people are being told by their friends or their bed partners that they make an excessive amount of noise all through the course of the night. Snoring actually happens to be more of a social disease rather than a medical disease. This means that it is often a bothersome feature to people around you, but it does not give you a genuine medical condition.

The other condition that is often associated with sleep disorder is called sleep apnea. Technically this means that the patient has episodes of stopping breathing, and this causes a drop in the oxygen level. While people around you might be able to observe your sleep pattern and tell you that you are indeed experiencing brief episodes of stopping to breathe, the definition of sleep apnea strictly depends on a drop in the oxygen level in your blood. This is distinct from simple gagging or chocking or waking up frequently in the middle of the night.

The only way that sleep apnea could be correctly documented is through a sleep test. As the patient is sleeping, attached monitors can detect oxygen level, and a recording is made. If there are enough interruptions in the sleep pattern, coupled with appropriate drops in the oxygen level in the blood, a diagnosis of sleep apnea can be made.

Sleep testing can be done in two general settings. The original setting was that of a sleep laboratory. This is typically a private office, and is not part of a hospital setting. Each patient gets an individual room, where they would spend the night for a full night of sleep. As the patient is sleeping in this bedroom, technicians in the central part of the office can monitor the degree of sleep apnea. If sleep apnea is indeed documented, half way through the night the patient can then be tried for a trial of CPAP mask to establish the proper pressure and settings needed.

Alternatively, sleep testing can be done in the patient’s home. The patients are generally fitted with a take-home device to so the testing themselves. The advantage of this method is that the sleep happens in a patient’s own home and bed, which is much more typical of the patient’s regular sleep pattern. The results are decently accurate, but not as accurate as the ones professionally done in the sleep laboratory. Also, the home sleep tests cannot check the level of CPAP pressure needed. If the patient is initially diagnosed with sleep apnea with a home study, and the patient decides to have a CPAP mask as their primary treatment, they would still need to spend the evening in a sleep laboratory in order to establish the proper level of CPAP pressure needed.

Many doctors have equipment and references ready for you for both a home study and a laboratory study. Please consult with your ENT specialist to arrange for a sleep test if you suspect that you indeed are suffering from sleep apnea.

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Posted in: Sleep Apnea

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