App Diagnoses Snore Danger While You Sleep

Want to know if your snoring is damaging your health? Perhaps just ask your smartphone!

Exciting new research to be presented at an Australasian sleep congress in Brisbane on Saturday shows smartphone technology can potentially diagnose a serious disorder, obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA), in snorers.

The technology, not yet commercially available, might allow the thousands of Australians living with the common but concerning condition to get a diagnosis quickly and cheaply from the comfort of their own bed for the first time.

“We’ve pioneered new technology that listens as you sleep and can tell you, virtually upon waking, whether you’re just a snorer, or if there is something more sinister at work during your sleep,” says Associate Professor Udantha Abeyratne, who was involved in five important studies on the topic to be presented at the congress.

“For many Australians, this quick, cheap and easy diagnosis could offer a lightbulb moment that finally explains why they wake day-after-day feeling tired and unrefreshed.”

One in five Australians report frequent, loud snoring and about eight per cent of the population have been diagnosed with OSA, a snoring-related disorder that disrupts breathing, limits blood oxygen levels and interferes with sound sleep. Studies show that three in ten men and nearly two in ten women have OSA, but up to 80 per cent remain undiagnosed. People with OSA have significantly higher than average rates of stroke, heart disease, high blood pressure and depression, and are more likely to feel excessively tired during the day.

The condition costs the health system about $400 million a year, with an extra $2.6 billion annually in indirect costs arising from lost productivity, workplace accidents and car crashes.

There is an effective treatment option available, continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), in which air is gently pumped into the throat overnight to stop it collapsing.

“The trouble is very few sufferers know they have it,” Associate Professor Abeyratne says. “And to get a diagnosis, they currently need to undergo an expensive and labour intensive overnight sleep study.”

Associate Professor Abeyratne, a biomedical engineer, has been working to make diagnosis more accessible, pioneering the advanced analysis of snore sounds that can recognise OSA at work.

“Snoring is the earliest symptom of OSA, and while not all snorers have OSA, almost all people with OSA snore,” he explains. “That makes snoring an obvious target for a smart diagnosis tool.”

The researcher led a Brisbane study of 73 people that found the patented technology, run off an Android smartphone, could correctly identify those with and without the condition with more than 90 per cent accuracy compared with a laboratory-based sleep study, the clinical standard test for OSA. The program was developed over the last 20 years in close collaboration with local and international teams of biomedical engineers and sleep and respiratory physicians.

He was also involved with a larger clinical study, led by Perth clinicians Dr Ivan Ling and Dr Phillip Currie and from Hollywood Private Hospital, that found a smartphone app developed by ResApp Health Ltd. could accurately diagnose OSA in a sample of 731 adults.

Both programs are fully-automated, require no training to operate, and work by analysing snoring and/or breathing. Results challenge traditional medical opinion that snoring cannot give sufficiently specific information on OSA.

“These results are excellent and offer great promise to expand the range of tools that can help identify people with OSA,” Dr Ling says. “There is strong clinical and societal need to diagnose and treat these patients, and therefore accurate, reliable and widely accessible screening devices are very welcome.”

Associate Professor Abeyratne and Dr Ling are presenting at Sleep DownUnder 2018, the annual conference of the Australasian Sleep Association, held October 18-20 at the Brisbane Convention Centre. The congress showcases the latest in exciting clinical research to improve the sleep of everyone from babies and teens to shift workers and the elderly. Specialists will canvas every facet of our night time slumber with investigations of problems like snoring, insomnia, narcolepsy and daytime sleepiness.

The Australasian Sleep Association is the peak scientific body in Australia and New Zealand representing clinicians, scientists and researchers in the broad area of Sleep. Our vision is the provision of world standard research, education and training, and establishment of clinical standards to ensure clinical best practice in sleep medicine resulting in an informed community with healthy sleep practices.

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