Pulse oximetry, a standard monitoring tool in respiratory care, plays a key role in diagnosing sleep disorders before oxygen desaturation contributes to comorbidities like GERD, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, says Sleep Review‘s sister publication RT Magazine.

Pulse oximetry, an essential tool in clinical and home sleep testing, is key to diagnosing sleep apnea before nighttime blood oxygen desaturation worsens existing comorbidities such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and GERD, or perhaps even contributes to their onset.

“It’s the gold standard in home apnea testing,” said David Baker, CEO of SleepImage, which recently formed a partnership with Nonin Medical Inc to add pulse oximetry to its existing devices. Results from Nonin’s WristOx2 oximeter are integrated with those from the SleepImage device. The addition of oximetry to its sleep testing devices has increased system accuracy by 25% to 30%, Baker said.

“Cardiopulmonary sleep disorders, essential sleep apnea, obstructive sleep apnea, upper airway resistance all require the use of pulse oximetry for diagnosis,” said Braebon CEO Richard Bonato, who added that pulse oximetry also can be used as an ongoing monitoring tool after the initial diagnosis.

“Pulse oximetry is one of the parameters used for diagnosis, but it can also be a tool to monitor ongoing treatment. A case in point—a doctor with breathing problems used pulse oximetry one night to establish a baseline. The next night he again monitored his blood oxygen with pulse oximetry while wearing a CPAP. He had essential sleep apnea, and so continued to monitor with pulse oximetry to determine his optimum air pressure level,” Bonato explained.

Postdiagnostic readings make sure that the patient using continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is receiving the optimal flow of compressed air to keep the airway open and thereby prevent the obstructed breathing that characterizes sleep apnea.

On its own, however, pulse oximetry is rarely sufficient, said Bonato. “Sure, if a guy walks into your clinic at 400 pounds with a 22-inch neck, it’s pretty obvious what’s going on, so pulse oximetry monitoring may be enough,” he said, adding that most cases aren’t so clear-cut and require other data such as ECG, respiratory rate, heart rate, and snore.