When it comes to sleep apnea, most people want to start CPAP therapy quickly so they can start feeling better fast. But where do you begin? What types of doctors diagnose sleep apnea? What’s a sleep apnea doctor called? There are a lot of different types of doctors who can diagnose sleep apnea and prescribe a treatment plan.
Most people start with their primary care physician (PCP) and get referred to a specialist contingent on the information provided to your family doctor. For instance, if your partner is complaining about snoring, your family doctor may refer you to a pulmonologist for treatment. However, they may not be the only doctor able to help you diagnose and treat your sleep apnea. If you think it’s your teeth grinding that’s causing you to sleep poorly, for instance, your PCP may refer you to your dentist instead.
No matter how you slice it, starting with your PCP is usually your best start since they know your history and can send you to the right specialist, so you can start sleeping better soon.
Are Pulmonologists the Only Doctors Who Treat Sleep Apnea?
Your sleep apnea care will likely start with your PCP who more than likely will refer you to a pulmonologist—a doctor that specializes in breathing disorders, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, and sleep-related disorders.
Pulmonologists care for the respiratory system and have their own sub-specialties. Most of these are closely tied to parts of the body, which is key in diagnosing and treating sleep apnea. Pulmonologists are commonly the ones who prescribe sleep tests, give you a diagnosis, and help you manage your sleep apnea.
Those with pulmonary diseases such as COPD and asthma are at an increased risk for sleep-disordered breathing. If you know you have any pulmonary disease, then the odds are it could be related to your sleep apnea. Disclose any known medical conditions to your PCP to see if a referral to a pulmonologist is the best way to treat your sleep apnea.
What Kind of Doctors Treat Sleep Apnea?
There are also other kinds of doctors who can treat sleep apnea—pulmonologists are not the only ones. Your PCP may refer you to other doctors to help you get diagnosed with sleep apnea, which is contingent on your medical history and why you and your doctor think you may need CPAP therapy. Your family doctor themselves may help you treat your sleep apnea, but other specialists who can help include:
- Sleep Specialists. Doctors specializing in sleep are called somnologists. A somnologist isn’t the only one who can help you diagnose and treat your sleep apnea, and we’ll talk more about it later in this post.
- Ear, Nose, and Throat Doctors (ENT). With their deep knowledge about some of the main parts involved in sleep, an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctor is another specialist capable of treating your sleep apnea. In the cases of sleep apnea due to deviated septums or other conditions related to the ENT area, your PCP would likely refer you to an ENT doctor.
- Neurologists. Part of understanding sleep involves understanding how your brain behaves during sleep. This is where neurologists come in. Those with certain neurological conditions are at higher risk for sleep apnea than the general population. Some brain conditions impair muscle and neurological control, including the upper airway.
- Dentists. Believe it or not, a dentist can be the earliest diagnostician of your sleep apnea based on your teeth’s wear-and-tear from grinding your teeth. They may also be able to identify it through other signs, such as a small jaw or tongue, which could lead to your breathing being disrupted during sleep. A dentist can also recommend a sleep study, although the official diagnosis would need to be made by a medical doctor.
What Is a Sleep Apnea Specialist Called?
Some family doctors may refer you to a sleep specialist, whom you now know is called a somnologist. It’s understandable if you are now asking yourself: if all of those other doctors and specialists listed above are also capable of diagnosing and treating my sleep apnea, why would I have to go to a sleep specialist?
That’s a good question! The truth is, you don’t have to go to a somnologist. However, a somnologist is someone who knows all about sleep apnea and sleep disorders.
Somnologists have all had additional education in the science of sleep and have passed certification exams as part of their extensive qualifications to diagnose and treat sleep disorders—just like other specialists.
How Do Doctors Diagnose Sleep Apnea?
Since sleep apnea is a nocturnal condition that only happens when a person sleeps, doctors need to be able to monitor sleep activity to make a proper diagnosis. To do this, doctors use a sleep study to measure respiration, heart rate, breathing, and blood oxygen levels, among other things to see what happens while you sleep.
Sleep studies can take place at home or in a sleep lab. A sleep apnea diagnosis can be made through a home sleep test (HST), but in some cases, it may need to be done in a lab where they can check for the presence of other sleep disorders aside from sleep apnea if any are suspected.
When the results of the sleep study are analyzed, the doctor can make a proper diagnosis. If you are found to have one of the three forms of sleep apnea, your doctor will develop the best course of treatment. As you may have guessed, there are also different kinds of PAP—positive airway pressure—therapy machines in addition to CPAP machines: APAP and BiPAP.
Prescriptions Accepted on CPAP.com
The journey towards a sleep apnea diagnosis and the many sleepless nights leading up to the first conversation with your doctor can seem daunting. We hope this helps you find the best path for you to getting diagnosed and sleeping well.
Typically, CPAP.com accepts prescriptions from medical doctors, nurse practitioners, doctors of osteopathy, physician’s assistants, and dentists. There are also some credentials we are unable to currently accept, including RNs, optometrists, and chiropractors. Explore the list of all the credentials we do and do not accept here.
David Repasky has been using CPAP treatment since 2017 and has first-hand experience with what it’s like to live with Sleep Apnea. He brings the patient’s perspective to the CPAP.com blog and has received formal training in CPAP machines, masks, and equipment.