All of Us are at Risk When Truck Drivers Suffer from Sleep Apnea
June 21st, 2016 by Wapner Newman
Like food and water, humans need sleep to survive. Like healthy food and clean water, humans need restorative sleep to flourish. There are a number of sleep disorders that can get in the way of quality sleep, but over the last two decades, there has been a notable rise in the prevalence rates of a sleep-related breathing disorder called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). This pervasive problem is currently estimated to affect 26 percent of adults between the ages of 30 and 70 years. One of the biggest contributors to OSA is being obese, which notably puts truck drivers in the high risk category of developing OSA – and the rest of us in danger of accidents caused by them.
Truck drivers are among the most obese workers in the U.S. workforce. It’s not hard to understand why. Long, stressful hours behind the wheel mean little opportunity for physical activity and limited access to healthy foods. People who are obese have four times the risk of sleep apnea than people who are not, and men are twice as likely as women to develop it. The tough part is that many people with sleep apnea do not know that they have it because it occurs while they are asleep. This frequently undiagnosed disorder cannot be detected during a routine check-up or with a blood test. Rather, it is often a bed partner or family member that notices the problem – and the solitary life led by many truckers makes them less likely to learn that they may suffer from the disorder.
OSA causes a person to temporarily stop breathing. As a normal part of sleep, the muscles of the upper airway relax. However, when the airway repeatedly becomes narrowed by the collapse of extra tissue in the back of the throat, the amount of air that reaches the lungs is limited. This is usually accompanied by loud snoring or gasping/choking noises. As the oxygen levels decrease, the brain briefly awakens the person to resume breathing. The severity of a person’s sleep apnea depends on how many times a night this disruptive cycle occurs.
This non-restful sleep commonly leads to poor concentration, excessive daytime fatigue, and sleepiness during routine activities. Studies have shown that OSA can severely impact driving performance by significantly increasing tiredness, which affects reflexes, cognitive skills, and motor skills. With the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) concluding that approximately 26 percent of the 3.4 million licensed commercial drivers suffer from sleep apnea, the risk of crashes due to OSA is real.
FMCSA requires drivers who are diagnosed with sleep apnea to be “disqualified until diagnosis of sleep apnea is ruled out or has been treated successfully.” While sleep apnea is manageable using continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, oral appliance therapy, or surgery, it’s estimated that 80 percent to 90 percent of sleep apnea cases are undiagnosed. Until there is better OSA screening for commercial drivers and more awareness of this destructive disorder (which can result in health problems as varied as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and depression), everyone sharing the road with these drivers has an increased risk of being in an accident with one.
If you are trying to put your life back together after a truck accident involving a sleep-deprived driver or if you have any questions about this topic, trust your case to the PA accident attorneys at Wapner Newman. For almost 40 years, we have been the trusted advocates for countless personal injury victims and their families throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. We offer risk-free consultations and work on a contingency basis, which means that we do not require you to pay any fees until we have secured a recovery on your behalf. We encourage you to contact us today by calling 1-800-LAW-6600 or filling out a free case evaluation form and let us help you.