Can obstructive sleep apnea ever be diagnosed without a sleep study in which someone sleeps through the night with wires attached to their head and other devices recording their vitals?

Diagnosis of OSA is not the same as detecting or witnessing it.

“Actually, an astute bed partner can witness the apneas sometimes,” says Daniel Rifkin, MD, a sleep medicine expert at the Sleep Medicine Centers of Western New York.

People have observed a bed partner or other family member’s breathing literally cease for up to a minute.

They have witnessed this occur over and over again during overnight sleep or even a nap.

When the breathing resumes, it’s often accompanied with a gasp or snort.

The suspicion for OSA should be high in people who exhibit repeated stopped breathing during sleep, and especially if snorts and gasps, or what seems like labored breathing, is witnessed.

The suspicion can be confirmed only with a sleep study.

“The sleep study is not only important in diagnosing the presence of sleep apnea, but it’s most helpful in determining severity,” says Dr. Rifkin.

“We approach treatment differently for different levels of obstructive sleep apnea.

“Mild sleep apnea is defined by greater than five episodes of sleep apnea per hour but less than or equal to 15 events.

“Moderate sleep apnea is between 15 and 30 events per hour, and severe sleep apnea presents with greater than 30 events per hour.

“I’ve had many patients with even more than 100 events per hour.”

Sleep Apnea Myth

A myth is that thin people are immune to OSA. This is absolutely NOT true, because smoking and drinking can promote OSA. 

In addition, a natural excess of pharyngeal tissue, a large tongue base and a narrow airway can also give rise to apnea events.

Dr. Rifkin is board certified in both neurology and sleep medicine. He also treats insomnia, RLS and narcolepsy. 
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.  
Top image: Habib M’henni, Wikimedia Commons