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Sleep Apnea: Meet Your Health Care Team

Medically Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on June 18, 2021

If you think you might have sleep apnea, many different specialists can diagnose and treat the problem. The doctors you’ll need to see depend on the type of sleep apnea you have and the specific symptoms you need to treat.

Managing sleep apnea often requires a team approach. Here are some of the health care professionals who may help you get your condition under control.

Primary Care Doctor

Your primary care provider is a good place to start if you don’t yet have a diagnosis for sleep apnea. They’ll go over your symptoms and medical history to decide what the next steps might be. If your doctor knows your symptoms are related to a sleep disorder, they may refer you to a sleep specialist.

Sleep Specialists

Sleep specialists are doctors who diagnose and treat sleep disorders. They typically train in fields such as internal medicine, pulmonology, otolaryngology (ear, nose, and throat), psychiatry, or neurology. After their residency, sleep specialists get more training in sleep medicine. They get their board certification from the American Board of Sleep Medicine (ABSM).

You may be able to start your sleep apnea care with a sleep specialist. Some insurance companies require you to have a referral from your primary care doctor first.

Sleep specialists can diagnose you, figure out how severe your sleep apnea is, and come up with a treatment plan. You may need to stay overnight at a sleep clinic for a sleep study. This will give your sleep specialist more information to figure out the root cause of your problem and decide which type of sleep specialist can best guide your treatment.

The sleep specialist you see may be one of the following:

  • Ear, nose, and throat doctor (otolaryngologist). If tests show you have obstructive sleep apnea -- sleep apnea that stops your breathing as you sleep -- an ear, nose, and throat doctor can check to see if you have a blockage in your nose or throat.
  • Neurologist. Neurologists are nervous system specialists. If you have central sleep apnea, it means your brain isn’t sending the right signals to the muscles that control your breathing when you sleep. A neurologist can pinpoint the issue and find the right treatment.
  • Pulmonologist. These doctors specialize in lungs. A pulmonologist can prescribe a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine to help you breathe at night. They can also diagnose you with any other lung conditions that could be affecting your sleep, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
  • Cardiologist. Sleep apnea can have links with high blood pressure, an irregular heartbeat, heart disease, heart failure, or stroke. A cardiologist (heart doctor) can diagnose and treat these heart-related conditions as part of your sleep apnea care.
  • Psychiatrist. Behavioral sleep medicine specialists treat habits and environmental problems that could be causing or worsening sleep apnea. They may recommend a type of therapy called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) that helps you change actions or thoughts that might keep you from sleeping well.

Other Medical Professionals

In addition to a sleep specialist or primary care doctor, you may also visit a:

Dentist. Some dentists have training in sleep disorders. If you have mouth or jaw problems that are making your sleep apnea worse, a dentist can fit you with appliances to correct them.

Surgeon. You may need surgery to treat your sleep apnea. A surgeon can correct problems with your mouth and throat that may make it hard to breathe. If obesity is part of the cause of your sleep apnea, a doctor may recommend weight loss surgery as a treatment.

Respiratory therapist. A certified respiratory therapist can help you use the tools and treatments that aid in breathing, such as a CPAP machine. If you’re having trouble with mask fit or discomfort, a respiratory therapist can work with you to find a way to stick with your treatment.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

American Sleep Apnea Association: “How to get a sleep apnea diagnosis.”

Mayo Clinic: “Obstructive Sleep Apnea,” “Sleep Apnea.”

American Academy of Sleep Education: “What is a Sleep Team?” “What is Surgery?”

Lung: “Chronic lung disease in the sleep apnea syndrome.”

American College of Cardiology: “The Role of the Cardiologist in Sleep Disordered Breathing Management: ‘Opportunity or Obligation?’”

American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine: “Dentists Treat Sleep Apnea, Too.”

American Association for Respiratory Care: “Sleep Resources.”

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