Just how big of a danger are truckers with sleep apnea?

One of the single most difficult things for millions of Americans to do is secure eight hours of sleep. While this can be attributed to everything from generalized anxiety and acid reflux disorder to newborn babies and noisy neighbors, it can also be attributed to a serious condition known as obstructive sleep apnea.

Interestingly enough, a recently published study by researchers in Italy revealed that truckers suffering from obstructive sleep apnea -- or OSA -- have a considerable higher crash risk than their counterparts able to secure a good night's rest.

What is OSA?    

OSA is a breathing disorder in which a person's airway actually collapses during sleep, resulting in a coughing/gasping reflex that wakes them momentarily. As this happens many times throughout the course of the night, it prevents the person from ever falling into a deep, restorative sleep cycle.

Many times, people are unaware they have the condition.

What are the dangers associated with OSA?

OSA, which is more common among obese people and men, has been linked to an elevated risk of stroke, hypertension and heart disease. On an everyday basis, it's been linked to daytime fatigue, delayed reaction times, impaired attention spans and, by extension, an elevated risk of serious accidents.

What did the aforementioned study examine?

The researchers recruited 283 truckers, all of whom were men and specially trained to haul hazardous materials, and had them complete a survey asking about OSA symptoms. While none claimed to have OSA, the researchers eventually determined that 100 of them had some form of OSA after examining their survey responses and subjecting 139 of them to at-home testing. Indeed, they found that 24 of them had severe OSA.

Thereafter, the researchers had these 24 truckers with severe OSA receive continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) treatment, designed to keep airways open during sleep, a minimum of four hours per night at least five days per week over a two-year period.

What did they determine?      

At the outset of the study, the researchers found that the truckers with severe OSA were 4.75 more likely to be involved in near-miss collisions than those truckers without OSA. However, after the two-year treatment, the near-miss rate of the truckers with severe OSA fell to a rate that was comparable with the truckers without OSA.      

"Screening for OSA in heavy vehicle drivers should be a major public safety priority," said the senior author. "The study highlights the importance of a screening tool for sleep-related breathing disorders in commercial drivers' clinical routines."

What's been the response to the study here in the U.S.?

While many U.S. scientists agree wholeheartedly with these findings, it appears to have had little impact on federal regulators. Indeed, despite studies like these and the urging of the National Transportation Safety Board, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has still not made OSA screening for truckers mandatory.

Here's hoping this changes sooner than later.

If you've been seriously injured or lost a loved one in a truck accident caused by the negligence of another -- fatigue, improper maintenance, speeding, etc. -- consider speaking with a skilled legal professional as soon as possible.

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