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For many patients, the initial consultation with the Sleep Cycle Center team may be the first opportunity to discuss their health concerns with a sleep professional and potentially an initial point for apnea screening. This can be an overwhelming experience for some patients as they take their first steps toward resolving their sleep issues and concerns, including various sleep conditions. 

To help answer any questions our patients may have, the team at the Sleep Cycle Center was asked to share the most commonly asked questions by patients about sleep apnea, focusing on apnea signs and symptoms to look out for! Here are some of the most common questions, which might potentially include insights into handling apnea better.

Can You Diagnose Sleep Apnea on Symptoms Alone?

One of the greatest challenges for sleep clinics and their diagnostic teams is spotting common signs and symptoms of apnea, as the condition often overlaps with symptoms common in other diagnoses. For example, consider the wide variety of short and long-term illnesses that contribute to fatigue, headache, or mood changes; there is a long list for practitioners to work from! 

Then, you need to consider a person’s individual experience of these symptoms, as one patient’s high pain scoring for a headache may differ greatly from another’s. Moreover, the methodology for diagnosing sleep apnea typically involves an in-depth examination of the patient’s sleep patterns and physiological responses during sleep.

The Importance of Formal Sleep Apnea Testing

This is why, although we can use symptoms in the screening process to suspect a case of apnea and arrange further testing, it is impossible to create a reliable diagnostic approach through symptoms alone. It’s important for any patient presenting with sleep apnea symptoms to follow the formal screening and testing process to ensure an accurate diagnosis so they can get the appropriate medical care to manage the condition successfully. 

Furthermore, specialists often include specific examinations to ensure that all aspects of apnea include various critical factors like lifestyle, medical history, and observed sleep behaviors.

What is the Difference Between Mild and Moderate Sleep Apnea Symptoms?

Like many medical conditions, we’ve found apnea can present itself in many different ways, including levels of severity. This is particularly noticeable when considering common sleep complaints presented by patients. This is why when a diagnosis is confirmed, we will score it as mild, moderate, or severe to help our team and the other physicians we work with determine the most appropriate treatment needed and the impact this could have on other conditions. 

Additionally, when considering treatment options, it’s vital to explore various avenues, such as dental appliances, especially for cases of obstructive sleep apnea, to effectively manage and potentially alleviate symptoms.

Reported Apnea Symptoms Are Still an Important Part of Our Investigations

Reported symptoms are one of the many considerations we use to score an apnea diagnosis from mild to severe, pairing these results with more accurate findings recorded in formal sleep studies. Once we have all of our patient’s data required for a confirmed diagnosis, we will review their symptoms against the Apnea-Hypopnea index, which scores episodes of apnea and hypopnea per hour during a sleep study. 

Scoring ranges from:

  • 5-14 for mild 
  • 14-29 for moderate
  • 30+ for severe

Generally, we’ve seen the frequency of symptoms, such as episodes of snoring and waking up with a morning headache, will also increase with higher AHI scoring. Alongside these symptoms, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is often identified during these assessments, as it commonly involves episodes of partial or complete airway blockage during sleep. In such cases, dental interventions can sometimes be quite helpful. Indeed, in dentistry, practitioners have developed various strategies to manage and mitigate apnea symptoms, including utilizing an oral appliance to maintain an open, unobstructed airway during sleep. 

This oral appliance is particularly useful for those who snore heavily or have been diagnosed with mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnea symptoms, providing an alternative strategy for those who might struggle with other forms of treatment.

Do Patients With Untreated Sleep Apnea Have Different Symptoms?

Firstly, living with untreated sleep apnea can pose many health risks and complications, including new or worsening symptoms and the development of other medical complications. Those living without the appropriate treatment will likely experience more frequent and severe symptoms than those undergoing management for their condition, who may even resolve some ailments of apnea entirely! 

Notably, introducing dental solutions has brought about significant advancements in managing the condition.

In That Case, What Are the Risks of Ignoring Symptoms?

Despite the progression in sleep science and understanding of diagnostics for apnea, it is estimated that as many as 80% of US citizens with OSA still live undiagnosed. Sleep apnea can lead to many serious medical issues, including cardiovascular diseases, poor quality of life, mental health conditions, sexual dysfunction, diabetes, and an increased risk of personal injury. 

Without the appropriate treatment and management of the condition, a patient’s risk of developing further health complications rises significantly, depending on the severity of the apnea. Furthermore, a facet often explored in dentistry, particularly in treating obstructive sleep apnea symptoms, involves using an oral appliance designed to curtail the incidence of snoring and improve airflow during sleep, thereby enhancing the overall quality and efficacy of one’s rest.

Will I Still Have Sleep Apnea Symptoms After Commencing Treatment?

We’ve worked with many apnea cases over the years and understand the treatment outcome is different with each case. However, in general, we see many patients report positive improvements to the following symptoms when starting treatment:

  • Decrease in loud and frequent snoring episodes.
  • Reduction in apnea episodes, with less disruption to sleep.
  • Improved energy levels as a result of waking up less throughout the night.
  • Fewer morning headaches as oxygen levels stabilize in the body.
  • Improved concentration and cognitive functions as sleep quality improves
  • Controlled blood pressure and reduction in cardiovascular risk.

In most cases, patients who respond well to treatment usually see fewer symptoms, although this varies from person to person.

I’m Undiagnosed: What Signs of Sleep Apnea Are Often Missed?

Unfortunately, many sleep apnea symptoms can be easily overlooked or misdiagnosed. Continued research and education surrounding sleep science have been helping to improve this and streamline the diagnostic process, but signs of apnea are still commonly missed. Certain symptoms are harder to spot than others, some that patients are not aware they have until later in the investigation process! We’ve listed some of the more uncommon signs of apnea below:

  • Silent apneas, where breathing is disrupted without the typical loud, abruptive snoring episode suggestive of apnea.
  • Microawakenings, when the sleep apnea episode is so brief, patients may be unaware they have woken during the night but still experience issues with daytime fatigue.
  • Frequent urination during the night due to hormone imbalances caused by apnea episodes. This can often be misdiagnosed for other medical conditions.
  • Stomach issues that are usually attributed to IBS or GERD can be a result of the hormone imbalance triggered by disrupted episodes of sleep.
  • Mood changes are often linked to mental health conditions, including symptoms such as insomnia before sleep apnea is considered. These diagnoses can also cause further complications with apnea; for example, depression or insomnia medications could lead to sedative effects, worsening episodes of disrupted breathing.”

What Can I Do to Help a Doctor Understand My Symptoms and Sleep Issues?

This is always a good question and a very valuable one! We always recommend patients bring supporting documentation, such as sleep diaries, logs of ongoing symptoms, and witness accounts from bedroom partners to help us create a detailed overview of the screening process. These accounts provide our team valuable insight into a patient’s health and sleep pattern and can be used as evidence for a confirmed diagnosis.

I Have Symptoms of Sleep Apnea, How Can You Help Me?

Our team uses a range of screening methods and testing procedures to evaluate a case of suspected sleep apnea, but the first steps toward diagnosis and treatment start with the patient. This is why we’re dedicated to empowering our patients’ understanding of apnea and the symptoms to look out for so those living with the condition can feel ready for their initial consultation with the Sleep Cycle Center and start sleeping better.

Suppose you or your doctor are concerned about a suspected apnea diagnosis, or you are taking the first steps in the assessment process or started the initial referral process.

In that case, our free Sleep Assessment Form is over 90% successful at identifying individuals with sleep apnea within 48 hours.