Who Should Diagnose Sleep Apnea?
by Dr. Scott Bolding
Millions of Americans have obstructive sleep apnea and don’t even know it. Sleep apnea can be hard to detect because daytime sleepiness and other symptoms overlap with other conditions. You most likely don’t know that you’re waking up at night unless your partner says something.
If you don’t know that you have sleep apnea you aren’t going to be able to treat it. Not diagnosing and treating sleep apnea can lead to serious problems. Daytime sleepiness can cause accidents at work or while driving. The lack of quality sleep caused by OSA can lead to an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, and dementia.
Clearly getting help with sleep apnea is important. But you may be wondering, who should I see for obstructive sleep apnea? Can your primary care provider help? Do you need to see a specialist?
There are actually several doctors who diagnose sleep apnea. Ideally, they all should work together to help you get the right treatment.
How is Sleep Apnea Diagnosed?Before we look at who can diagnose sleep apnea, we need to understand the diagnostic process. The goal of diagnosing sleep apnea is two-fold. Of course, the first goal is to determine if you actually have sleep apnea. We need to evaluate if your symptoms are related to sleep apnea or some other issue. The second goal is to figure out the underlying cause so we can determine the right treatment.
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Sleep Apnea Diagnostic Process
We start diagnosing sleep apnea by talking about your symptoms and medical history. It’ll be helpful if you can keep a journal of how you feel every day. This way we can determine if these symptoms match up with those of sleep apnea.
Then, we need to do a physical examination of your airway. This will include looking in and feeling your throat. We may also take some images with an MRI or X-ray. This will help us see if something’s blocking your airway.
Finally, if we are sure you have sleep apnea you will need to get a sleep study. Sleep studies gather information about your sleep patterns. We measure blood oxygen levels, heart rate, and other factors. Through a sleep study, we can see for sure if you have sleep apnea or another type of sleep disorder.
Once we determine that you have sleep apnea we need to come up with a treatment plan. So, we need to take some time to understand why your airway is collapsing while you sleep.
Who Can Diagnose Sleep Apnea?
Now let’s look at what kind of doctors can diagnose sleep apnea. Ideally, all of these doctors should work together in order to find the right solution. Taking a collaborative approach is the best way to ensure you get what you need.
Start with Primary Care Provider
The best place to start is your primary care provider. They can help you determine if your issues are actually related to sleep apnea or another sleep disorder.
If you are noticing signs of sleep apnea you should start taking note of them before your consultation. As noted above, it helps a lot to keep a journal of how you feel. Write down what time you go to bed and when you make up. Note how tired you are every day. Ask your partner if they hear you snore or wake up at all in the night, write that down too.
Your primary care provider likely knows you best. They also have the best understanding of your medical history. That gives them a leg up in terms of diagnosing sleep apnea.
Once your primary care provider has determined that you have sleep apnea they will refer you on to a specialist to get a more specific diagnosis.
Specialists Who Diagnose Sleep Apnea
There are a few specialists that can help narrow down your sleep apnea diagnosis. The right one will depend on what your primary care provider suggests.
Specialists who can diagnose sleep apnea include:
- Sleep specialist
- Oral surgeon/Dentist
Ideally, a collaborative approach should be taken when it comes to diagnosing sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a complex issue. There may be multiple factors that contribute to it. So, you need different perspectives and skill sets to make sure we get the right diagnosis. Any specialist you see should be in constant communication with your primary care provider and vice versa.
Smith, A. (2020, August 19). Doctors who help with sleep apnea. Retrieved September 30, 2022, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/sleep-apnea-doctors
What Kind Of Doctors Diagnose And Treat Sleep Apnea? (n.d.). Retrieved September 30, 2022, from https://www.tmjtexas.com/what-type-of-doctor-to-see-for-sleep-apnea