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Just when you’d thought you’d seen everything in the world of apps, in comes the latest novel creation in the health sector. Experts from the University of Washington have developed Apnea App, which they say will help us learn whether we suffer from sleep apnea.

This is a major breakthrough because sleep apnea is a very difficult disease to diagnose. It is a complete or partial blockage of the air passages that leads to poor quality sleep, causing headaches and fatigue during the day.

Most cases of sleep apnea go undiagnosed, and a case is considered severe when there are more than 30 episodes of respiratory arrest or reduction per hour. Usually, breathing returns to normal, sometimes with a loud snore or something that sounds like choking.

Until now, to get a proper diagnosis a patient needed to spend a whole night in a hospital, monitored by qualified staff and with several sensors on their body to monitor the vital signs. This method of diagnosis is quite uncomfortable and expensive — but thanks to technological progress there is now a cheaper and simpler way.

ApneaApp: the app that helps detect apnea while you sleep

ApneaApp, now available only for Android, is an app capable of detecting changes in breathing through the patient’s movements of the abdomen, arms and legs. The phone emits a series of ultrasound waves toward the body — that are undetectable to the person sleeping — that bounce off the body and back to the phone’s microphone, allowing the app to recognize changes in body movement.

In the early tests on 37 patients, the University of Washington reports they have been able to obtain an accuracy of between 95 and 99% with the phone operating at a distance of about 0.9 meters.

The application is in constant development and is expected to be available for most smartphones. The first tests were done with a Samsung Galaxy S4, and hopefully the full results will be presented in summer of 2015.

This application is not the only one being developed in the sector. Oxford University is working on a very similar app. Its SmartCare Sleep App is able to detect and connect to medical devices via Bluetooth.

This is another step toward accelerating diagnoses and achieving more reliable results.

Sleep, a hot subject for app development

This is not the first time we have addressed the subject of sleep and mobile applications. A few months ago we explained that there are already apps on the market that help fight insomnia, with an article that opened the debate on whether these types of applications will come to replace sleep medications. For now, the debate is still open, but seeing the way technology is evolving, it’s possible that the balance is beginning to shift. Stay tuned.