In Part One of our series on sleep apnea, we discussed possible signs and symptoms of the condition, as well as diagnosis. In part two, we examine screening and treatment options.
If you suspect that you suffer from sleep apnea, there are several screening options. As mentioned in part one, a self-screening can be helpful to identify symptoms. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s self-test is one such tool.
Another step in the diagnosis process is documenting your sleep history through a sleep diary. A diary should be kept for a minimum of 10 days with entries that include pre-bed routines, sleep and wake times, restlessness, and even diet. This allows you to evaluate your habits and realize any patterns or concerns.
A consultation with your physician is the best way to obtain an accurate diagnosis. If a diagnosis is suspected, you will most likely be sent for a sleep test at a sleep study center. You may be asked to participate in the sleep study at the center, but home sleep studies are utilized routinely. No matter where the test, doctors will look for signs of the disorder and severity of the condition.
Anatomy of a sleep test
A typical sleep test involves placing bands across the chest and abdomen that detect movement and gauge breathing, as well as placing sensors on the chest to track heart rate and rhythms. Brainwave activity is monitored through electrodes on the scalp that determine if the patient is awake or sleeping and, if sleeping, what stage of sleep the patient is in. Respiration is measured with an airflow monitor above the lip, and oxygen levels in the blood stream are measured through a sensor placed on the finger. These sensors indicate the level of oxygenation you maintain while sleeping and any pauses in your breathing.
Anxiety and restlessness associated with a sleep test can be compounded by sleeping in an unfamiliar place. For some patients, a measure of anxiety can be alleviated by opting for a home sleep study.
Once a diagnosis has been made, there are many treatments available. Obesity is often the biggest contributing factor to sleep apnea. Depending on the severity of your condition and current physical health, your doctor may simply put you on a weight-loss regimen. Another treatment for mild sleep apnea is a nasal decongestant that can clear airways.
For moderate to severe conditions like obstructive sleep apnea, a doctor may suggest the use of a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, which is a mask that fits over the mouth and nose while sleeping. Patients with obstructive sleep apnea experience a collapse in their airway during sleep, so a CPAP machine helps to prevent this, resulting in better breathing, more oxygen in the blood, and less interrupted sleep. The CPAP machine gently blows air through a tube connected to the mask, applying mild pressure to the walls of the airway, thus keeping the airway open.
Though very disruptive, the good news is sleep apnea is usually a treatable condition. In our third installment of this series, we will discuss how the Department of Transportation is mandating testing for sleep apnea, as well as hear from drivers who effectively manage their sleep apnea.
About the author:
Dennis Estep, DO, MPH, FACOEM, is the medical director at Freeman OccuMed in Joplin, Mo. Freeman OccuMed, a service of Freeman Health System, partners with local businesses to find cost-effective solutions to keep employees