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Why Is It Important to See a Pulmonologist for Sleep Apnea?

The Role of a Pulmonologist in Diagnosing Sleep Apnea and the Different Treatment Methods.

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Dayton Respiratory Center

May 09 2022

6 mins read

Are you someone who snores while sleeping? Does your partner or roommate complain about your snoring?

You snore when there is some obstruction in your airways. In many cases, snoring can be due to congestion in the nasal cavity and occasionally occurs when you have a cold.

However, if this condition persists for a long period, it is a typical indication of sleep apnea

Sleep apnea is a disturbed sleep pattern that occurs due to intermittent breathing. It is a serious condition caused by various factors.

It occurs when the muscles in your throat relax while you're asleep, blocking the airways and intermittently cutting off the air supply to your lungs or when the brain fails to send signals to the muscles that aid breathing. This leads to hypoxia (oxygen deficiency) and causes several complications if left untreated.

What should you do if you've sleep apnea?

Let's discuss how a pulmonologist diagnoses sleep apnea and the different treatment methods.


Why Should I See a Pulmonologist?

Sleep apnea affects your sleep and decreases the oxygen level in your body, which eventually leads to heart ailments, diabetes, liver damage, and even cancer. 

There are three types of sleep apnea, and knowing which one you have will help to determine your treatment options.

A pulmonologist is a doctor who specializes in treating the lungs and other organs that facilitate breathing.

Sleep apnea is a respiratory disorder that impairs your sleep. Only a pulmonologist can accurately diagnose the cause of sleep apnea and provide an effective treatment. 


How Does A Pulmonologist Diagnose Sleep Apnea?

Your doctor has to determine the type and severity of your sleep apnea before starting the treatment. He may suggest a sleep test to monitor your breathing pattern.

It requires overnight monitoring of your sleep pattern at a sleep center or at your home. 

There are two methods to diagnose sleep apnea.

  • Polysomnography—This test, also known as a sleep study, is conducted in a sleep center. Your doctor will connect you to a machine that will measure your heart, lung, brain and muscle activity while you're asleep. It also measures your respiratory rate, eye movements and oxygen levels during sleep.
  • Home test—Your doctor may suggest tests that you can easily conduct at home. These tests involve checking your blood pressure, heart rate, oxygen levels and breathing patterns at night.

If your diagnosis shows any abnormalities, your doctor will suggest one of the following treatment methods discussed below.


How Is Sleep Apnea Treated? 

Sleep apnea treatment aims to improve your breathing pattern and prevent pauses in breathing. The various treatment techniques for sleep apnea are discussed below.



Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy uses positive pressure to treat obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

In OSA, the patient’s relaxed muscles obstruct the airways and hinder breathing. CPAP pushes air into your airways (positive pressure) which ensures that your airways remain open during sleep.

In this treatment, you'll have to wear a mask that covers your nose, nose and mouth or your entire face depending on your comfort. This mask is connected to a machine that provides positive pressure and controls the airflow.

CPAP|Source: ELF


Bilevel positive airway pressure (BIPAP) provides two positive pressures; one when you inhale and the other when you exhale. It is used in patients who are unable to use CPAP or have severe central sleep apnea.

Adaptive servo-ventilation

It's non-invasive ventilation support—uses masks similar to CPAP or BiPAP—for people suffering from central sleep apnea and obstructive sleep apnea. This device records your normal breathing pattern and saves it in a computer. While you're sleeping, the machine will automatically keep your breathing steady and continuous.

Oral Appliances

Oral appliances are custom-made devices used to treat mild sleep apnea. It is also used by patients who are not comfortable with CPAP.

Though oral appliances are less effective when compared to CPAP, they're easier to use.

There are different types of oral devices available in the market. They either fit in your mouth or around your head and gently push your lower jaw forward to keep your airways open. 

The two common types of oral appliances are mandibular advancement devices and tongue stabilizing devices. Your dental appliance must be fitted by a dentist and checked regularly.

While oral appliances are comfortable, quiet, portable and easy to wear, they might cause some potential side effects like soreness and permanent change in the position of the jaw and teeth.

Mandibular Advancement Device|Source: SGS

Tongue Stabilizing Device

Neuro-Stimulation therapy

This therapy involves an implantable system that works from within your body. It is used to treat people with moderate to severe sleep apnea and who are not comfortable using CPAP.

It consists of a generator, a sensing lead and a stimulation lead. It senses pauses in breathing and delivers mild stimulations to restore breathing. It uses two approaches to treat two different types of sleep apnea.

Hypoglossal Neuro-stimulation therapy (for obstructive sleep apnea) delivers mild stimuli to the airway muscles that keep them open and eliminate pauses in breathing.

Hypoglossal Neuro-stimulation|Source: Medgadget

Neuro-stimulation therapy (for central sleep apnea) stimulates the nerves in the chest that control the breathing muscles, thus preventing sleep apnea. It mimics the way our brain signals the breathing muscles.

Neuro-stimulation Therapy|Source: DAIC


Surgery should be considered a treatment method only when all other options have failed. It is done for different reasons as follows:

  • To remove excess tissues 
  • To remove adenoids or tonsils
  • Jaw repositioning
  • To straighten the nasal septum
  • To implant rods into the soft palate

Daytime treatment device

This is a new treatment approach approved by FDA to treat mild obstructive sleep apnea. It is prescribed for people 18 years of age and older and is a daytime treatment compared to other treatment techniques for sleep apnea.

This technique uses a device called eXciteOSA that stimulates the tongue muscles, which over time can prevent it from falling back and obstructing the airways during sleep. 

It consists of a silicone mouthpiece with four electrodes spread above and below the tongue. Electrical muscle stimulation is delivered in sessions with intermittent resting time. 

This treatment aims to improve the function of your tongue muscle, preventing it from falling backward and restricting your airways as you sleep.



Untreated sleep apnea can be dangerous and can lead to many health complications. There are various treatment options available for sleep apnea. However, only a pulmonologist can accurately diagnose sleep apnea and the severity of your condition and suggest an effective treatment. Also, if the prescribed treatment method isn’t comfortable, you can talk to your pulmonologist and look for other alternatives.

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