If you have ever been forced to sleep on the sofa because you wake the whole house up with your snoring, you may actually suffer from a serious breathing disorder called sleep apnea.
Doctors warn that sleep apnea should be treated, as it can cause sufferers to stop breathing. Now, a recent study says sleep apnea can also lead to more accidents among sufferers.
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Snoring on television is often depicted as a humorous, if mildly annoying, habit. When you have sleep apnea, however, snoring is no laughing matter.
The Mayo Clinic explains that sleep apnea is actually a sleep disorder that causes a person’s breathing to stop and start.
In a person with obstructive sleep apnea, the muscles in the throat relax too completely, narrowing the airway and lowering the amount of oxygen in the blood.
When the body senses it isn’t getting enough air, it rouses the person into wakefulness. The problem is this momentary surfacing from sleep is so brief, most people don’t even realize they’re waking up throughout the night.
In fact, many people with sleep apnea don’t even know they have it. They may feel tired or simply not well-rested, but they don’t understand why.
Risk factors for sleep apnea include:
The good news is that sleep apnea is very treatable. Treatment options for sleep apnea include medication, surgery, nasal dilators, weight loss, and using a machine that assists with breathing during sleep – commonly known as continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy.
Because sleep apnea patients frequently suffer from excessive daytime sleepiness, they have a much higher risk of being involved in a motor vehicle collision. In short, drivers with sleep apnea are usually fatigued drivers.
Researchers at the University of British Columbia were surprised to discover just how high the risk of a car accident jumps when a motorist has sleep apnea.
In an analysis of 1,600 people, scientists found sleep apnea sufferers are twice as likely as non-sufferers to be in a car crash. Researchers also reported being “surprised about the severity of the crashes”.
The study also found that car accidents among sleep apnea patients dropped by 70 percent when sufferers used a CPAP device at least four hours per night.
According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, obstructive sleep apnea affects at least 25 million people in the United States.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is well aware of the dangers posed by sleep apnea. It sponsored a study that revealed nearly one-third of all commercial truck drivers have mild to severe sleep apnea. Driver fatigue is also a leading cause of tractor-trailer accidents.
Although there are currently no FMCSA guidelines specifically addressing sleep apnea, commercial truck drivers must seek treatment for any health conditions that interfere with their ability to drive safely.
Also, the FMCSA heard public comments in May 2016 regarding new rules for testing and treating sleep apnea in truck drivers.
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