Smart Ring maker Oura is working on an non-intrusive wearable patch that should detect obstructive sleep apnea.
In a patent filing published by the United States Patent Office, the health tech company explains how sleeping position data combined with a microphone, motion sensors, heart rate data and blood oxygen readings could determine an “apnea likelihood”. In diagrams accompanying the patent filing, the patch is shown in multiple positions on the body – on the forehead, throat, behind the ear and on the chest – but also as an earpiece.
Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition where tissue in the nose blocks the airways causing sufferers to stop breathing. As the brain detects the rise in Co2, it causes people to wake up, and sleep quality can be badly affected. Oura cites estimates of 35 million people in the United States are undiagnosed, which would account for 85% of all sufferers.
This is largely because obtaining a diagnosis involves expensive clinical sleep studies. Patients are hooked up to multiple probes and sensors, but the sample size is often one night.
Oura also believes misconceptions about the seriousness of the condition means many sufferers aren’t seeking a diagnosis at all. Oura’s patch could eliminate those barriers, the filing asserts. Thanks to the direct contact with the skin, the patch could incorporate several sensors to accumulate data points and establish useful insights.
"The present invention provides a positional obstructive sleep apnea detection system that obtains information about a subject's sleep position and combines it with information of a cessation or reduction in breathing," reads the recently published patent spotted by Wareable.
"In some embodiments, the detection system combines a pulse oximeter with a position sensor. Pulse oximetry is at the core of every sleep study to track blood oxygen saturation below standard levels."
The description mentions additional measurements that can add layers to the data, such as a mic, heart rate sensor and accelerometer to detect snoring sounds, breathing rate and effort, and sleep/wake cycles.
Combining this information could assess the risk of sleep apnea, and even diagnose it. If sufferers are already using a CPAP machine, the patch could also be useful to establish the machine’s efficacy.
The data could also give users enough information to determine an optimal sleeping position to minimize the effects of the condition.
The publication of the filing comes a few months after researchers from Georgia Tech University in the United States successfully tested a wearable device to study sleep apnea. The wireless patch system, which includes sensors to record brain, eye, and muscle activity, has an 88.5% accuracy rate for detecting obstructive sleep apnea.
“A lot of people have this disorder, but they don't know it because it's very hard to diagnose right now,” said study author W. Hong Yeo. “Current smartphone apps don't capture the specific data doctors and clinicians study to determine if a patient has apnea, rendering them useless."
While the Georgia Tech researchers might be a little farther along in terms of a workable solution that could simplify sleep apnea, Oura’s name recognition and track record of manufacturing health-focused devices could make the company better placed to bring a solution to market. We have contacted Oura for a statement on the filing and future ambitions in the sector.
By Chris Smith
Chris has more than decade of experience writing for the UK's foremost technology publications including TechRadar, T3 and more.
A freelance journalist based near Miami, Florida, Chris has written for Wareable since its inception in 2014. From reviews of the latest fitness devices, and in-depth features on bleeding-edge wearable devices, to future-gazing interviews with some of the industry's brightest minds, Chris covers the lot. He also writes about sport for The Guardian and is the author of many technology guide books, while also dabbling in film, music, beer, travel and political commentary.
When he's isn't smashing away at the keys of his MacBook, Chris can be found at his favourite craft breweries, dangling his rod in the warm waters of the Florida Keys, or exploring the Shropshire countryside.
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