Babies who snore are widely under-diagnosed, according to Australian researchers investigating less costly and more effective methods of identifying sleep apnea hypopnea syndrome in infants.

A joint study conducted by electrical engineering researchers working at both Western Sydney and Sydney universities looked at the combined use and applicability of two minimally invasive sensors, electrocardiogram (ECG) and pulse oximetry as an early detection method of sleep apnea.

Sleep-related breathing disorders in infants and young children have been linked to several negative developmental effects, such as cognitive impairment, depression, and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, says Gregory Cohen from University of Western Sydney (UWS) and Philip de Chazal professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Sydney. The pairs’ study results showing it is possible to detect apnoea events using two minimally invasive sensors consisting of ECG and SpO2 devices has been published in the online journal Computers in Biology and Medicine.

“While it is possible to perform overnight polysomnograms on infants and young children, the intrusive nature of the multitude of sensors limits the practicality and effectiveness of the technology and can lead to lower quality results in infants and young children,” de Chazal says in a release. “There is a clear need for the development of a less invasive, lower cost means for the detection and diagnosis of apnea events using easily accessible and low-cost sensors.”

His co -investigator Gregory Cohen, PhD candidate at UWS, says: “This work forms an important step in demonstrating potential for such low-cost and minimally invasive diagnostic systems.”

However there is still work to be done to bring the performance of the system to a clinically acceptable accuracy. “Further research using data acquired with higher -resolution sensors will be instrumental in boosting the reliability and the diagnostic power of such a system,” Cohen says

Cohen and de Chazal studied an existing dataset of 396 scored overnight polysomnography recordings from the international CHIME study. The dataset contained data from healthy infants, infants diagnosed with sleep apnea, infants with siblings who had died from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and pre-term infants.