Truck Drivers Not Reporting Sleep Disorder Symptoms

Wed, Sep 19, 2012

Truck drivers may be downplaying the severity of their sleep disoreders, according to a recent study delivered at the Annual Congress of the European Respiratory Society in Vienna.  

Dr. Werner Strobel, University Hospital, Switzerland is the lead author of the study.   He said, “Our study suggests that commercial drivers are playing down their levels of sleepiness for fear of losing their jobs.”

Dr Strobel acknowledged this is very difficult to prove, but the data recovered from a study of commercial drivers versus a control group of patients gave a strong indication commercial drivers downplayed their sleepiness compared to other patients.

A total of 37 commercial vehicle drivers with sleep apnoea were compared with a control group of 74 patients. Both groups shared similar characteristics such as age, body mass index (BMI) and similar numbers of disturbances experienced during the night.

“You would therefore expect their reports of sleepiness to be similar to begin with, however the (commercial) drivers estimated their levels of sleepiness as lower than the non-drivers,” Dr Strobel said. “This pattern continued throughout the course of the study, with drivers reporting lower symptoms, yet receiving less treatment and making more unscheduled visits to the clinic.”

Both groups also underwent treatment using Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) — the 'gold standard' treatment for sleep apneoa.  Even after treatment, the drivers reported lower levels of sleepiness than their counterparts -- with the commercial drivers reporting an average sleepiness score of 4.8 and non-drivers reporting an average of 7.7 after 6 months of treatment.The authors speculate that the lower scores reported by the commercial drivers could be due to drivers under-scoring their sleepiness levels for fear of losing their license. 

“We can assume from these results that commercial drivers with sleep apnea symptoms could be under-reporting their sleepiness in order to protect their job,” Strobel added. “These results should be taken into account by healthcare professionals who are treating this group of people.”

In Australia, sleep disorders are a 'notifiable condition' for people seeking a driving licence of virtually any kind.  In many work places, the existence of an untreated sleep disorder is also grounds for denying work with many types of heavy equipment.

The good news is, patients with sleep apnoea who have successfully undergone treatment can continue to perform their duties ... and do so in the knowledge that they are still protected by the law and their insurance, in the case of an accident.  Untreated apnoea sufferers involved in an incident may be legally liable for the consequences of any accident, and may find that their insurance does not cover them.

The other good news is, diagnosis and tretment is now easier to arrange than ever before.  Dignostic sleep studies (polysomnograms) no longer need to be done in a foreigh and expensive hospital-based or sleep lab environment.  Instead, the sleep study can be done in the privacy, convenience and comfort of the patient's own bed.  This also delivers study results which are more representative of a 'typical' night's sleep.

If the diagnostic study identifies the need for treatment, this can often also be provided in the comfort and privacy of your own home. A Sleep Therapist will visit your home at a convenient time to explain and demonstrate how to use the CPAP equipment to best effect.  Weekly data downloads will be done to check progress, and your nurse will visit or check regularly to see what can be done to improve results.  Taking this approach, it often means weeks of trialling different masks, straps, humidification and other settings before the optimum solution is found -- but compliance and positive results are maximised after this point.  By comparison, merchants who simply sell CPAP machines do not have the ability to provide the follow up service and care and so the CPAP machine is often not used consistently or correctly.

If you are a driver and think you might have a sleep disorder, contact us immediately to arrange a diagnostic sleep study.  We have successfully treated many commercial drivers and understand the importance of privacy at every stage.  Our nurses are also experts at getting the best possible resutls for patients -- including the documentation necessary to show that the condition has been effectively treated and so the driver is fit to continue his or her duties.

Call today on 1300 246 637 for a free, no obligation chat with one of our friendly sleep therapists.  Alternatively, click on the button below to make an online enquiry.  Either way, get in touch soon and let us help.  That's what we're here for!

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