If you’re asking yourself, “do I have sleep apnea?” you may already be concerned about your sleep habits. Sleep apnea is a condition in which you have a pause, (or many pauses) in your breathing while you sleep. These pauses can last a few seconds to a minute or longer. Unfortunately, there is no way to diagnose sleep apnea when you are awake. Blood work or lab tests will not provide information to your sleep apnea specialist.
When sleep apnea goes untreated, it can have dire consequences. For starters, this chronic condition makes you sleepy throughout the day. You could fall asleep while driving. It also affects your sleep partner. But it also increases the risk of:
• High blood pressure
• Heart attack or heart failure
Types of Sleep Apnea
The most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea. This is when your airway is blocked, causing you to stop breathing at night. The most typical symptom is loud snoring, but you might also gasp for air in your sleep. Both adults and children can suffer from obstructive sleep apnea.
Another type of sleep apnea is central sleep apnea. This occurs when your brain doesn’t send the right signals to the muscles that control your breathing. Central sleep apnea can affect children and adults, but it’s most common in those with certain medical conditions. Typically, snoring is not a symptom, but you may experience the same types of sleepiness and shortness of breath as you would with obstructive sleep apnea.
When to See a Sleep Apnea Specialist
Sleep apnea is a chronic condition that often isn’t treated until it gets serious. You may not even notice the symptoms until your sleep is severely disrupted. You should consult with your sleep apnea specialist when you first experience sleep problems. The sooner you start treatment for sleep apnea, the less it disrupts your life. Definitely see your sleep apnea specialist if you observe the following symptoms:
• Loud snoring that disturbs your sleep or that of others in your home
• Waking up choking or gasping for air
• Excessive daytime drowsiness, even though you sleep at night
• Difficulty staying awake
• Pauses in your breathing during sleep
Sleep problems that lead to chronic fatigue are not always due to sleep apnea, which is why you should have a sleep apnea specialist diagnosis your problem before you begin treatment.
Why Choose a Sleep Apnea Specialist?
You may go to your family physician when you think you have sleep apnea for initial diagnosis. It could be something else causing your sleep problems. Your primary doctor will evaluate the symptoms and make a referral to a sleep apnea specialist for further testing.
Physicians who specialize in treating sleep apnea typically have one to two years of additional training in sleep medicine after completing medical school and their residency. A doctor may specialize in neurology, otolaryngology, family medicine or internal medicine in addition to taking a fellowship in sleep medicine.
Look for a board certified sleep specialist, who has to complete a fellowship in sleep medicine and pass a national examination to prove their expertise. These doctors have to re-certify every 10 years to show that they are keeping up with current medical information and education.
When you have a board certified sleep specialist, you can be assured that your doctor is up-to-date with the most recent sleep apnea treatment options and technology concerning sleep apnea. You may also want to look for a sleep center that is accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, but you may have to travel to a larger community that has this resource.
Selecting the Sleep Apnea Specialist
In some communities, you may not have many different options for finding a sleep apnea healthcare provider. Your insurance may limit coverage to certain locations or specialists. Even so, you should still take the time to read about the clinic and the doctor to check credentials and reviews. Make sure the clinic where you are being treated has the resources to provide testing and treatment.
If you have multiple options, do the research and find out which sleep apnea specialist fits your needs. Check their credentials and resources. Ask friends and family if they have recommendations. You may want to check with your primary care physician, too.
With research and information, you should be able to find a sleep apnea specialist that meets your needs.