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Sleep Apnea and the Transportation Professional
The 3 major disease related health care costs in the trucking industry are hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes, and heart disease. A direct contributor to these diseases is obstructive sleep apnea. With public awareness leading the way, sleep apnea and more importantly, apnea treatment (i.e. CPAP) is finally getting the attention it deserves.
This attention has also put a spotlight on transportation professionals and the effects that undiagnosed and untreated sleep apnea has on them. A standard of practice is beginning to develop in the trucking industry in regard to screening and treating of truck drivers for sleep apnea and those receptive to the concept are reaping the rewards, both financially and physically. Studies on health care utilization have shown tremendous reduction in claims and hospitals stays after diagnosis and treatment as compared to prior year before.
By The Numbers
In 2005, large commercial trucks were involved in nearly 5,000 fatal crashes and 82,000 injury crashes. This resulted in 5,200 deaths and nearly 115,000 injuries. If only 25% of these crashes are sleep related, approximately 1,250 large truck fatal crashes and over 20,000 large truck injuries may be attributed to sleep apnea. In 1994 NHTSA estimated the cost to be $83,000 per fatality, a total of 12.5 billion and 85% of the cost from workplace loss and loss of productivity.
It Affects Us All
It is estimated that up to 70 million adults in the United States suffer from sleep disordered breathing; 80-90 percent of those adults still remain undiagnosed. Sleep apnea made national headlines as in 2004 and 2006 as contributing factors in the deaths of football great, Reggie White and baseball Hall of Famer, Kirby Puckett. This disease shows no boundaries and can affect anyone. Thankfully, with proper diagnosis and treatment, sleep apnea can be controlled and in most cases lead to a better quality of life. Diagnosing this disease is only half the battle, apnea suffers MUST continue to use their prescribed therapy and/or devices and maintain a proper routine replacement schedule.
Q&A on Trucking and Sleep Apnea
Q) Why does 1800CPAP.Com devote an initiative to the transportation professional?
A) We are in the sleep medicine field have a moral obligation to the community to promote public awareness and education about sleep disorders. There is a concerning prevalence of sleep disordered breathing in the trucking industry and the potential dangers, not only to the truckers themselves but to the public as a whole.
Q) I have heard about sleep apnea but what is it?
A) Sleep apnea, simply put, is a disorder by which a person’s airway collapses during the sleep, resulting in a lack of oxygen to the lungs and frequent, but brief awakenings. It is estimated that up to 70 million adults in the United States suffer from sleep disordered breathing and of those, 80-90 percent remain undiagnosed. Obstructive sleep apnea has direct links to heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and diabetes.
Q) What kind of treatment options are available for people that suffer from sleep apnea?
A) CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) is the only 100% proven effective treatment, though surgical procedures are available to candidates that meet criteria. CPAP is a device that provides pressurized air through a nasal mask that keeps the airway from collapsing while you sleep as well as eliminates associated snoring.
Q) What are some common myths about sleep apnea?
- It only affects overweight or obese people. Though obesity is an indicator that someone may have sleep apnea, even people in peak physical condition can suffer from this disease.
- That snoring or gasping for breath while you sleep is common and of no real concern. The truth of the matter is that snoring is typically the first sign that someone may be suffering from sleep disorder breathing or it will lead to that.
- That treatment with a CPAP device is a hassle. Often times when confronted with the thought of sleeping with a CPAP device, a person may be reluctant however once they realize the therapeutic benefit they receive, they become a huge advocate to everyone they know. While it will take a few nights to get used to sleeping with a nasal mask, after that many people say they don’t even notice they are wearing it.
Q) Based on the statistics, why are there a higher percentage of apnea sufferers among truck drivers?
A) Most people will speculate work environment associated with poor diet and lack of time to exercise, but there could be a number of factors. A healthy diet accompanied with exercise is not as easily accessible when much of your time is spent on the road. Poor “Sleep Hygiene” could be another reason; inconsistent sleeping hours, and conditions.
Q) What if you don’t have any recognizable symptoms of sleep apnea? Should people that do not show these signs be tested?
A) While the recommend amount of time of sleep a person should receive is 7.5 to 8 hours, there are people that function just fine on 5-6 hours. Though it’s not recommended, they feel 5-6 is just fine and see nothing wrong with that. It is the same with sleep apnea, unless they are feeling fatigued during the day, they most likely will not get tested. That does not mean that they do not have sleep apnea, they just are experiencing the symptoms that other may or the symptoms are masked because of the higher consumption of stimulants. The average person will spend up to 1/3 of their life sleeping and potentially suffering from a disease they never knew they had.
Q) Why are some people reluctant to get tested or treated for sleep apnea?
A) People will put off testing for various reasons. With today’s volatile economy, some people put it off because of costs. Sleep apnea is not like, say a toothache or broken arm or something that you tell yourself “OK I need to get this fixed right now”. If there was more public awareness of how deadly sleep apnea could be, testing would be a priority. Constant research has shown sleep apnea and its links to heart disease, stroke, diabetes and hypertension; in fact one of the major contributors to hypertension is sleep apnea.
Q) Any other symptoms or conditions associated with sleep apnea?
A) People with sleep apnea may also exhibit or experience memory loss, daytime fatigue, moodiness or irritability and even erectile dysfunction.
Q) Why are we concerned about sleep apnea now, why haven’t we heard about this before?
A) The diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders is still somewhat in its infancy. Sleep apnea now, is much like smoking was 20-25 years ago; people knew it wasn’t healthy and there were warnings for it but weren’t fully convinced of how life threatening it was. With the current obesity epidemic, the probability of having sleep apnea has increased and with that comes the symptoms or indicators for testing. The treatment options for sleep apnea, particularly CPAP has increased awareness as well.
Q) Outside of the obvious health benefits for testing and treatment, why do it?
A) A recent poll showed the top 2 concerns we have right now is fuel prices and the rising cost of healthcare; obviously major concerns for the trucking industry. Now, while treating your sleep disorder won’t be able to impact the cost of diesel fuel, studies have shown a reduction in physician claims and hospital stays with people treated for sleep apnea with CPAP.
Q) Why would people in the trucking industry be reluctant to be tested?
A) The primary concern that we hear is the trucker would be fearful to lose his/her job if diagnosed, so they are reluctant to be tested. Though, if you think about it, it’s a catch 22. If left undiagnosed and untreated, the direct effect of the disease itself can lead to conditions that will prevent them from working as well as increased medical costs. If it was put into the perspective that treatment now may prevent conditions like diabetes, heart failure and stroke, thus increasing the likelihood of ability to work, I think people would be more likely to see the positive benefit. Regardless of profession, a symptomatic person should want to be tested and if positive, treated to enjoy a greater quality of life.