Can You Diagnose Sleep Apnea with a Home Test? - Harrell Orthodontic Specialist
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Can You Diagnose Sleep Apnea with a Home Test?

Home medical testing has made quantum leaps in the past 10 years. We can find out our ancestry with an inexpensive home DNA kit, and there are now several non-invasive, mail-in colon cancer screening tests we can complete at home. As an orthodontist who frequently sees patients who have sleep and breathing problems, I have also seen a rise in the number of home tests that claim to diagnose sleep apnea. It’s time for a sanity check!

Testing For Sleep Apnea

First, sleep apnea can only be truly diagnosed by a board-certified sleep physician. That said, however, orthodontists, dentists, and other healthcare professionals are often the first line of detection for sleep disorders, and they can prescribe tests that will provide your doctor with the most complete information about your sleep.

The most commonly prescribed test is an overnight sleep study performed in a sleep laboratory. Also called a polysomnogram, or PSG, this test involves placing sensors on various parts of your body and connecting them to equipment that records brain activity, eye movements, heart rate, and blood pressure. These sensors also monitor the amount of oxygen in your blood, nasal breathing, snoring, and chest movements. PSGs can cost between $150 – $500, which is usually covered by most insurance companies if patients have symptoms and meet “medical necessity” criteria.

So, what if you don’t have time, insurance, or money to cover an in-lab sleep study? If you have severe symptoms and are at high risk for obstructive sleep apnea but have no other complicating medical disorders, a home test may be a good starting point. A home sleep apnea test, or HSAT, allows you to sleep in your own bed while a small monitor collects data. The testing equipment is less complicated than what is used in an overnight sleep study.

After your home sleep apnea test, you can take the device back to the sleep center where you received the device, or send it by mail. The board-certified sleep physician will contact you to discuss the results. If the results are unclear, the physician may recommend an in-lab sleep study.

HSATs tend to under-diagnose breathing disorders, so this kind of test is recommended only if you have a high likelihood of moderate to severe sleep apnea. You should not have a home sleep apnea test if:

  • You do not have risk a high risk of obstructive sleep apnea
  • The physician suspects you may have another sleep disorder
  • You have certain medical conditions including pulmonary diseases, neuromuscular diseases or congestive heart failure

If you are diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, the sleep physician will discuss treatment options with you and develop a plan.

Home sleep tests cost far less than a PSG, so many insurance companies require an HSAT as a first-line diagnostics tool.

What’s Best for You?

Choosing an in-lab study or a home test is should be made on an individual basis, after consulting with your orthodontist, dentist, or physician. If he or she believes you have obstructive sleep apnea and wants to identify its severity, a home sleep test is often the best first step.

Have you used a home sleep apnea test? Were the results accurate? Share your experience!

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