Sleep Apnea is a disorder diagnosed by a physician based on symptom history, a complete physical examination, and results of a sleep study or sleep apnea test. Your doctor will evaluate your symptoms and then decide if you should be referred to a sleep specialist.
Sleep specialists are specialist doctors who diagnose and treat patients with sleep problems.
Family and Medical History for Sleep Apnea Diagnosis
At the time of your appointment with your doctor you’ll be asked specific questions regarding how well you function during the day, and how well you sleep at night. You should take your partner or family member with you to this appointment (or taken their written report with you) because the doctor will need to know how often and how loudly you snore, and how often you make choking or gasping sounds during sleep: things that obviously you won’t be aware of, therefore you need another person’s input.
Your doctor will also want to know if other family members have been diagnosed with this disorder, or suffered from the symptoms of sleep apnea. Unfortunately most people are never diagnosed, and certainly are not aware of their symptoms.
If you have a child who you believe may be suffering from Sleep Apnea, be sure to discuss this with your doctor.
Physical Examination for Sleep Apnea Diagnosis
Part of your examination will be the checking of your nose, mouth, and throat for large or additional tissues. In children the problem could well be enlarged tonsils. For children a doctor may only require a medical history with a physical examination to determine that the child has Sleep Apnea.
With adults, an enlarged soft palate or uvula could be contributing to Sleep Apnea. The soft palate is the roof of the mouth, in the back of the throat, and the uvula is the tissue hanging from the centre at the back of the mouth.
What Is A Sleep Study?
A sleep study is a series of tests to measure the quality of your sleep and how your body is reacting to sleep problems. The results of these tests will help your doctor determine if you do in fact have a sleep disorder, and its severity. The tests conducted in sleep studies are the most accurate in diagnosing Sleep Apnea.
Different Types of Sleep Studies for Sleep Apnea Diagnosis
If you doctor believes you have Sleep Apnea, there are two types of sleep studies available: a PSG (polysomnogram) or a portable monitor used in your own home, also called a Home Sleep Test (HST).
Sleep Study Using Polysomnogram
This is the more common type of sleep study for accurately diagnosing Sleep Apnea. It records eye movements, brain activity, blood pressure and heart rate. It also records the air movement while you breathe through your nostrils, the amount of oxygen in your blood, chest movements, and snoring. The chest movements are significant because they determine whether you’re trying to breathe.
These sleep studies are conducted in sleep labs or sleep centers. It’s a completely painless test: you just go to sleep as usual, the only difference being that you’ll have sensors attached to your face, scalp, limbs, chest, and a finger. The sensors are used by staff at the sleep center to check on your progress during the night.
Once the sleep study is completed your results will be reviewed by a sleep specialist to determine if you do in fact have Sleep Apnea, and just how severe it is. The results of your sleep study will be used to plan your treatment.
In addition, a Polysomnogram may be used to determine the best setting on a CPAP machine for you. CPAP stands for ‘continuous positive airway pressure’ and these machines are the most common form of treatment for Sleep Apnea. The CPAP machine keeps your airways open using mild air pressure while you sleep
An alternative is to have a split-night sleep study, meaning that the first half of the night you will sleep without the CPAP machine. If this determines that you do have Sleep Apnea, and the severity of it, then a CPAP machine will be used during the second half of the night. Staff at the sleep center will then adjust the air from the CPAP machine to determine the appropriate settings for you to have a comfortable night’s sleep.
Sleep Study Using Home-Based Portable Monitor
The other type of Sleep Study is done in your own home, where you attach yourself to a portable monitor as you’re going to bed. The monitor will record much the same information as the PSG, such as:
- The amount of oxygen contained in your blood;
- Air movement, while breathing through your nose;
- Your heart rate throughout the night, and
- Chest movements, showing whether you’re attempting to breathe.
The results from your sleep study will be reviewed by a sleep specialist to determine if you suffer from Sleep Apnea. It may be that you’ll be referred to a full PSG study conducted within a sleep center, or alternatively the results of your home based sleep study will determine your future treatment plan.