The diagnostic process for sleep apnea involves many stages and must be carried out by a doctor or sleep specialist.

Medical Examination and History

The first stages in a sleep apnea evaluation often include a physical examination, assessment of a person’s symptoms, and general health information. This is done to identify sleep apnea symptoms and risk factors that can make the condition worse.

Even though testing is required to establish obstructive sleep apnea, the presence of symptoms may aid in the diagnosis and assist determine the severity of the illness.

Sleep Studies

A sleep study is necessary to determine if a person has central or obstructive sleep apnea. The most accurate kind of sleep study, polysomnography, requires an overnight stay in a specialized sleep laboratory.

During polysomnography, many sensors are utilized to track various aspects of sleep, such as breathing, awakenings, oxygen levels, muscular activity, and sleep stages. 

The difference between central and obstructive sleep apnea may be determined by an in-clinic sleep study, which can also detect aberrant breathing patterns. For obstructive sleep apnea polysomnography, one or two visits to a sleep clinic may be necessary.

Patients who are believed to have more severe obstructive sleep apnea may decide to have the disease tested for at home. Even if an at-home test could be more practical, the results still need to be evaluated by a health professional. Home testing is not carried out for central sleep apnea.

Treatments for sleep apnea

The basic goals of sleep apnea treatment are to lessen breathing disruptions and improve sleep. Different therapies are used for central and obstructive sleep apnea.

Treatments for obstructive sleep apnea

Positive airway pressure (PAP) treatment is used to treat the majority of patients with obstructive sleep apnea. PAP therapy keeps the airway open by using pressurized air that is forced from a machine through a hose and a mask that is worn on the face20.

As part of a common kind of PAP therapy, continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) devices broadcast an airstream that is constantly set to the same pressure level. With other PAP device types, such as bi-level positive airway pressure (BiPAP) and auto-titrating positive airway pressure, the air pressure may change (APAP).

There are specialist mouthpiece types that maintain the jaw or tongue23 in a certain position as a treatment option for those with particular anatomical features and less severe OSA. Even though they often do not improve breathing as much as PAP therapy, these oral appliances may minimize snoring and may be preferred by those who struggle or feel uncomfortable using PAP devices.

Surgery to expand the airway and remove tissue from the throat may be beneficial for patients whose tissue is obstructing their breathing. Another surgical treatment involves implanting a device to stimulate a nerve that helps with breathing control.

Making lifestyle changes to help with symptom management is another component of treating obstructive sleep apnea. These suggestions may include reducing BMI via weight loss, exercising regularly (even if one doesn’t lose weight), modifying one’s sleeping position to avoid sleeping on one’s back, and consuming less alcohol.

Treatments for central sleep apnea

The primary focus of therapy for central sleep apnea is often the underlying issue causing irregular breathing. If sleep disruptions are mild, treatment for the underlying cause24 may be adequate.

If the central sleep apnea symptoms are severe or persistent, further treatment could be suggested in addition to trying to address the underlying problem. 

Using a PAP machine to promote more regular breathing while you sleep might be one way to achieve this. Other possible treatments include more oxygen therapy or the use of medications that accelerate breathing.

Impacts of Sleep Apnea

The majority of the time, sleep apnea may be effectively treated to prevent or cure serious repercussions, but if the condition is left untreated, it may have negative effects on health and wellness.

The harmful effects of insufficient sleep are made worse by sleep apnea since it affects the body’s oxygen levels during sleep.

As a result, obstructive sleep apnea has been associated with a higher risk of a number of health conditions, including: 

  • Pulmonary hypertension, which is high blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs that places an unnecessary burden on the heart.
  • Cardiovascular problems, including high blood pressure, stroke, heart failure, heart disease, and an irregular heartbeat.
  • Cognitive issues, including memory and attention issues.
  • Mood issues, including irritability and an increased risk

Surgical complications resulting from anesthesia

The underlying medical condition causing breathing issues largely determines the possible hazards in central sleep apnea.

Children and Sleep Apnea 

Sleep apnea is typically associated with the elderly, but it may also afflict young children. Young people are far more likely to have obstructive sleep apnea than central sleep apnea. One to five percent of youngsters are likely to have obstructive sleep apnea.

Children with OSA may not experience daytime sleepiness to the same extent that adults with sleep apnea do. Instead, they could exhibit daytime symptoms including hyperactivity, difficulty learning, or behavioral problems.

Children with obstructive sleep apnea often snore, much as adults do. Children may have other nighttime symptoms, including sweating, bedwetting, or sleepwalking31. Children with severe, untreated OSA may also have problems with growth and development.

Since enlarged tonsils and adenoids in the throat are a major cause of obstructive sleep apnea in children, surgery to remove these tissues may be an option for treatment.

Having a sleep apnea condition

People with sleep apnea may control their disease and any potential health effects by adopting practical methods.

Seek medical advice frequently: You should discuss any persistent symptoms, troubles with the medicine, or other concerns with your doctor or a sleep specialist in case they call for modifying the sleep apnea treatment plan.

Maintain the tools used in treatment: Cleaning and maintenance, whether you’re using a mouthpiece or a PAP machine, may help you get the most out of your treatment and avoid unwanted effects.

Avoid risky activities: People with sleep apnea should be aware of the risks associated with daytime sleepiness. It’s best to avoid using machinery or driving when fatigued, particularly for those with untreated sleep apnea.

Consider altering positions while you sleep: While there hasn’t been much study on them, specialist products designed to prevent back sleeping may assist some people with their obstructive sleep apnea symptoms.

Keep alcohol intake in check: A sleep apnea treatment plan may include cutting down on alcohol intake. 

Describe your sleep apnea to any new medical professionals: People with sleep apnea should describe their condition to any new medical professionals, particularly if they want to start a new medication or have surgery. Even daytime alcohol use may worsen respiratory problems at night in those with untreated obstructive sleep apnea.