If you have been newly-diagnosed with sleep apnea, you know by now how important it is to receive medical attention for this potentially life-threatening condition. You may have already been referred to a sleep specialist, who will become partners with you in your health care. If you haven’t seen a sleep specialist yet, you’ll want to know what will happen on your visit.
The sleep specialist will take a complete medical and sleep history. You’ll be asked about about how you sleep, how many hours per night you sleep, how fast you fall asleep, and whether you sleep through the night. How loudly do you snore? How often do you snore? Do you wake up choking or gasping for air? You may not know the answer to some of these questions, in which case you must ask a family member or bed partner to help you answer them. How do you function during the day? Are you sleepy? Do have difficulty staying awake? Are you often irritable? Do you have difficulty concentrating?
There will be a physical examination in which they will check your nose, mouth, and throat for enlarged tissues, such as an enlarged uvula (the tissue that hangs from the middle of the back of your mouth) or soft palate (the roof of your mouth in the back of your throat).
Your sleep specialist may then recommend a sleep study to determine if you have sleep apnea.
- Polysomnogram (PSG): A polysomnogram is a diagnostic test used to determine if you have sleep apnea. This test is usually done at a sleep center. Before the test, you will have sensors attached to specific areas on your body, and these sensors will help the staff to monitor the activity in your brain, your eye movements, blood pressure, and heart rate as you sleep. You may also have a split-night study. In this test, you’ll have the usual type of PSG during the first half of the night, and if you’re diagnosed with sleep apnea, you’ll be given a CPAP machine to use for the rest of the night. A CPAP (continuous airway pressure) uses gentle pressure to help keep your airway open so you can breathe normally during sleep.
- Home-based portable monitor: A sleep test may be ordered using a portable monitor at home. The monitor records how much oxygen is in the blood, heart rate, movement of air through the nose during breathing, and movements of the chest during breathing. This test can help make a diagnosis of sleep apnea and may also help to determine whether you need a PSG.
- Avoiding alcohol and medications that make you sleepy
- Weight loss
- Sleeping on your side instead of your back
- Using nasal sprays or allergy medications
- Quitting smoking
- Use of mouthpieces
If you have moderate to severe sleep apnea, your doctor may recommend:
Whatever your treatment is, you need to follow up with your doctor to be sure your treatment is working. You need to let your doctor know how you’re doing.
Your family can support you during this time by:
- Letting you know if you snore, how loudly you snore, whether or not you stop breathing during the night, or whether or not you’re choking or gasping for air.
o Being sure you put on CPAP mask before you go to sleep
o Being sure your CPAP equipment is clean
o Being sure your CPAP is full of fresh water before use
- Encouraging you if you’re making healthy changes such as:
o Quitting smoking
- Providing emotional support
If you’re looking for a sleepcenter near you, there are some good facilities around the country, and with the following site, you put in your zip code and it will show you where the closest sleep center is located near you. Sleepcenters.org is compiled and published by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM).
Online support forums: