Sleep apnea is a serious and potentially life-threatening medical condition that, according to the American Sleep Apnea Association, is as common as Type II Diabetes. Unlike diabetes, however, most Americans are unaware of what the condition is and many do not know that they are being affected by it. This is a serious problem, particularly for truck drivers. For their own safety and the safety of others on the road, it is important for commercial drivers to learn as much as possible about the disorder. This will help them seek medical attention for diagnosis and sleep apnea treatments. Understanding the condition will also help motivate them to make the appropriate lifestyle changes.
What is Sleep Apnea?
For people who want to understand what sleep apnea is, it is easiest to look at the sleep apnea definition. It is a sleep disorder in which a person temporarily stops breathing for ten seconds or more during sleep. When looking at the entire word, the word apnea is the Greek word meaning “want of breath,” or “without breath.” There are two common types of the disorder; obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea. It is important to understand the difference between the obstructive sleep apnea definition and the definition of central sleep apnea. OSA, or obstructive sleep apnea, occurs when the muscles in the throat relax to the point where they hinder breathing. Central sleep apnea is when the brain does not properly control a person’s ability to breathe. Of the two, OSA is the more common form of sleep apnea.
What is the Cause of Sleep Apnea?
There are a number of reasons why a person may develop sleep apnea. Being overweight or obese is one cause of sleep apnea, as is the size of a person’s neck; men with neck sizes that are 17-inches or greater and women who have necks that are 16-inches or more are at a greater risk of having sleep apnea. As the definition implies with OSA, the relaxing of one’s airways is one cause of the disorder. When the airway relaxes it narrows, and may even close, making it near impossible to breathe. Stroke or heart failure are often the cause of sleep apnea when a person suffers from central sleep apnea. Colds, excessive drinking, neuromuscular diseases, and enlarged tonsils are also potential causes of the disorder.
Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
There are a number of symptoms that are associated with sleep apnea. Some of the common signs of sleep apnea include loud snoring, waking up to headaches, and frequently gasping for air while sleeping. One of the more common and telling signs of sleep apnea is that the person with the disorder may be extremely sleepy during the day, to the point that they fall asleep at inappropriate times. Irritability is also accompanies many of these symptoms.
Health Risks of Sleep Apnea
Untreated sleep apnea is associated with a number of negative health conditions. Hypertension, or elevated blood pressure, is associated with sleep apnea in over half of the people who have the condition. The risk of developing high blood pressure rises with the frequency of sleep apnea events. There is also an increased risk of coronary heart disease, which is thought to be associated with the lowering and rapid rise of the heart rate during and following an event. Abnormal functioning livers may also become a problem. Depression is another condition that can be associated with the disorder, as is a loss of sexual function, diabetes, and memory loss. In some cases, sleep apnea may cause obesity.
Sleep Apnea Treatments and Cures
One of the most important questions that a person can ask is how to treat sleep apnea. There are several ways to potentially set about doing this. When it comes to sleep apnea treatments, a person may make lifestyle changes, use medical devices, or surgery may be necessary. In some cases sleep apnea is mild, and it may be affectively treated and even cured if an obese person loses weight or if a smoker quits smoking. A device known as a continuous positive airflow pressure, or CPAP system, is also a common tool used to help people breathe while sleeping. This device fits over the nose while the person is sleeping and keeps the throat open using pressurized air. Devices that fit in the mouth may also be useful for some people. These devices open the throat to make breathing easier. Surgery is typically the last option when it comes to how to treat sleep apnea. It may involve repositioning the jaw or the removal of tissue from the top of one’s throat and the rear of the mouth. Surgery may also involve implanting rods in the palate or creating new passageways for air.
Sleep Apnea and Truckers
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, 28 percent of commercial drivers have sleep apnea. Drivers with sleep apnea may also be susceptible to feelings of sadness or even rage while behind the wheel. According to research by John Hopkins, people who have sleep apnea have a greater chance of getting into a car accident. In fact, their chances of a crash increases to nine times that of people who do not have the disorder. This is bad news when it comes to people who drive for a living.