There are many screening tests for sleep apnea, but only one way to make a positive diagnosis: a sleep test. Screening tests tell us if a person is at risk for sleep apnea. Diagnosis is when we know for certain that a person has sleep apnea.

Now a new app is promising to be able to diagnose sleep apnea while you’re awake, eliminating the need for sleep tests. But it’s a long way from complete development, and it may not be able to accomplish these goals.

Monitoring Your Breathing

The basic theory for this new app is relatively simple. Sleep apnea is a breathing problem caused in large part by the structure of the jaw, tongue, and throat. These structures don’t change when you’re awake. So they likely impact your breathing when you’re awake, and the disturbance in your breathing should be measurable while you’re awake.

Could a smartphone app detect sleep apnea?

To monitor your breathing while you’re awake, the new app uses your phone’s microphone. It listens for your breathing while you’re talking on the phone or to your digital assistant. It can analyze your speech and pick up on markers of breathing difficulty. Putting together the sounds, it can determine whether you have sleep apnea.

Diagnosis without Strapping on Sensors

Currently, the app isn’t able to get enough data with only daytime use, so it supplements with data from overnight. Placing your phone near your bed allows the app to hear your breathing sounds like snoring and add this data to the daytime data to make a positive diagnosis. That’s according to the researchers at Ben-Gurion University, who developed the app.

Although this is not as good as simply being able to use the app during the day, it’s still an improvement over a formal sleep test. In a sleep test, patients are attached to numerous sensors and electrodes. But the new app allows diagnosis without anything strapped to the patient, which means a more natural, normal, and predictive sleep test.

Not Ready Yet

Unfortunately, the app is still undergoing development. There’s no word on when it will be commercially available. But perhaps by then, the diagnostic algorithms will be refined and the app really will be able to diagnose sleep apnea using only daytime data.

Until that happens, though, the only way to positively diagnose sleep apnea is with a sleep test. If you suspect you might have sleep apnea, please call (402) 493-4175 today for an appointment with Omaha sleep dentist Dr. Roger Roubal at the Advanced Dental Sleep Treatment Center.