I get maybe a dozen phone calls like one I received recently from a potential patient. He didn’t have a sleep test and his first question was: Do I really have to get a sleep test?
He explained that he knew that he had sleep apnea because he estimated that he was at least 100 pounds overweight. He also had a bed partner that once told him that he stopped breathing, and snored so loudly that he could be heard down the hall of his apartment building.
He never felt like he had a good night’s sleep, lacked energy during the day, and was prone to taking naps at his desk in the afternoon. So why wasn’t this enough information? Why did he still have to have a sleep test?
Symptoms vs. Diagnosis
What he described to me were his symptoms. In medical terms, this was part of his chief complaint and medical history. A quick Internet search of sleep apnea symptoms might convince anyone that they had sleep apnea. I agreed with him that he probably did have sleep apnea and should be tested for it. I referred him to a sleep lab for the sleep study. Why would I do that when I think he has sleep apnea?
Symptoms are not a diagnosis. One of my daughters had all of the symptoms of a cold, until she visited with her physician and got the diagnosis of having the flu. Along with an initial consultation with a sleep medicine physician, the sleep study is another part of the diagnosis. It’s like getting a blood test for suspected high cholesterol. Without a sleep study to confirm the symptoms, a physician would not know what appropriate treatment to recommend.
In addition, without a sleep study and a medical diagnosis, medical insurance companies will not pay for treatment. They need to know that you have a medical condition bad enough that it warrants treatment. Without a study, there is no proof of a “medical necessity” and therefore no insurance benefits.
I explained all of this to him, referred him to a sleep center for the consultation, sleep study and diagnosis.
What’s the Problem Here?
When I followed up with him, he still hadn’t gone for a sleep test and was adamant that he didn’t want to. I explained to him that he’s going to go to a place and sleep in a comfy bed. They will probably even tuck him in and watch over him all night like he was a newborn. He can even watch TV until he falls asleep. This is the easiest testing someone has to endure. Having blood drawn is more difficult than sleeping, really!
There are many reasons why people don’t get a sleep test at a sleep center, but the main reason is the fear of the unknown. They don’t know what to expect and there is a natural barrier, that we all have, to things that are simply unknown. Luckily, there have been many advances in sleep testing and you can now perform a sleep test in the comfort of your own home. It’s called home sleep testing and it’s something that I have offered to a number of patients that come to see me.
Bottom line, if you think you have sleep apnea, you need to get a sleep test. You should be wary if a dentist agrees to treat you for your snoring or “suspected sleep apnea” without first getting a sleep test.
Snoring and sleep apnea are medical problems. Dentists are only legally qualified and licensed by the state they practice in to diagnosis dental problems. They can legally and ethically treat you for your snoring or apnea with a sleep retainer if you have a sleep study.
If you want to learn more about sleep apnea and home sleep testing, you can visit my website www.snoringandsleepapneasolutions.com
Dr. Aldon Hilton
Originally published at medium.com