High-tech camera, algorithms fuse for better sleep apnea test

Computer scientist and doctor team for high-tech answer to snoring problem

NSF sleep test
What do you get when you combine the smarts of a computer scientist and a doctor of sleep medicine? A cool, less invasive way to figure out if  patients have sleep apnea, a common problem that causes a  snoring a person to momentarily stop breathing while sleeping. 

The new test,  known as thermal infrared imaging (TIRI),  uses a thermal infrared camera to monitor breathing waveforms and airflow as a patient breathes in and out of his or her nose. The measurements are processed using computer algorithms and produce results that have proved to be as accurate as traditional test for apnea known as a polysomnography

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The new method also provides doctors with more information about the patient's breathing, according to its creators Ioannis Pavlidis, Eckhard-Pfeiffer Professor of Computer Science at the University of Houston and Jayasimha Murthy, M.D., assistant professor of medicine from the Division of Pulmonary Critical Care Sleep Medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston UTHSC at Houston. 

If you have ever undergone a sleep apnea test, you know how terribly uncomfortable they are. Traditional sleep tests use a variety of leads and probes on the patient's head, in their nose, one their legs, arms and chest to gather data. TIRI eliminates the needs for the two most obtrusive probes under the nose, the thermistor and nasal pressure probe. Data is collected from a distance by a thermal camera. As the patient breathes in, cooler air is brought into his or her nostrils, creating a unique thermal signature for inhale. On exhale, the air blown from the lungs is warmer. 

TIRI not only makes it more comfortable for the patient to sleep during the study, but it gathers much more data from an array of points across the patient's lower face. The traditionally used thermistor only yields information about a specific point, the researchers stated in a release. 

"During a sleep study a subject has an average of more than 20 sensors attached to the head and body. It's a very complex procedure where many physiological parameters are simultaneously monitored to help in the diagnosis of sleep disorders. However, these sensors can disturb sleep and contribute to the patient's anxiety," said Murthy. 

The researchers believe that this new technology could change the way sleep apnea is diagnosed, potentially helping millions of Americans sleep better and possibly live longer, researchers stated. . Approximately 24% of men and 9% of women experience sleep apnea, the researchers stated. 

The National Science Foundation-funded sleep research will be published in this month's issue of Sleep.

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