Obstructive sleep apnea affects millions of adults and, without treatment, can lead to serious health issues. Unfortunately, OSA often goes undiagnosed, partly due to lack of simple tools to accurately detect the condition. 

People with OSA experience repeated episodes of shallow or halted breathing during sleep due to blockage of the upper airway. The most reliable way to diagnose sleep apnea requires an overnight sleep study at a specialty clinic, which involves being hooked up to various sensors that monitor sleep. However, a new device adds to the growing array of tools that could be used for diagnosing OSA at home.

Researchers at TU Dortmund University in Germany have developed a compact, wireless device equipped with a special sensor to monitor carbon dioxide levels in each breath. Subtle changes in carbon dioxide can signal disruptions in breathing during sleep, a common symptom of OSA.

Carbon dioxide levels are commonly measured in pediatric sleep studies to diagnose sleep apnea. This new sensor would simplify the process of taking this measurement, thanks to its compact size, low energy consumption, and wireless connectivity to a user’s mobile phone.

The device developed by the Dortmund researchers is designed to be embedded in a mask, though it’s unclear what type of mask could be paired with the device for at-home testing. A graphic included with the published research study suggests the device is small enough to embed inside a KN95 mask, a style of face covering commonly worn during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While this new sensor introduces innovative features, it’s not the only tool to diagnose OSA at home. In fact, there are already several types of home sleep apnea tests on the market, each providing a specific set of data points. 

The most comprehensive home sleep apnea tests closely mimic the tools in a sleep clinic but are rarely used at home due to their complexity. More common home tests track things like breathing, heart rate, and oxygen levels, with some also monitoring snoring and body position. Simpler home sleep apnea tests focus on just one or two key measurements, providing basic information rather than detailed diagnostics.

The device from Dortmund University could complement existing tools to more easily detect sleep apnea at home, providing data that streamlines testing and facilitates earlier treatment of OSA.

Although more research is needed to understand whether this new device could reduce the need for an overnight stay at a sleep clinic, it has the potential to improve a doctor’s ability to diagnose sleep apnea by making testing more accessible.

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5 Sources

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