Research review suggests high risk of obstructive sleep apnea among commercial drivers

A review looking at occupational risk factors for sleep apnea found that about 40 percent of commercial drivers may have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

Researcher, Paul Blanc, MD, MSPH of University of California San Francisco and his colleagues reviewed and analyzed previous studies of occupation as a risk factor for OSA. All studies used sleep laboratory testing (polysomnography or PSG) to diagnose obstructive sleep apnea.

Analysis of the data suggested that 41 percent of commercial drivers may have OSA, which is nearly as twice as high for non-obese men in the general population. A further analysis of a select group of studies estimated a 35 percent rate of mild OSA in commercial drivers and a 12 percent rate of moderate to severe OSA.

Data from eight of the studies reviewed suggest a possible increase in OSA risk among workers exposed to solvents. The risk could not be statistically confirmed though. Several other studies suggested possible increases in OSA risk among railroad workers, shift workers, and World Trade Center disaster responders.

Little is known about possible occupational factors associated with obstructive sleep apnea. Researchers suggest that commercial drivers may have other OSA factors like stress, high rates of obesity and high blood pressure, abnormal sleep/wake schedules. Daytime sleepiness and other OSA symptoms may be associated with increased risk of accidents.

“Pending more definitive data, clinicians should take into account occupational factors in considering sleep disorders and OSA, which carry significant costs from comorbidities and occupational disability,” concluded Dr. Blanc and colleagues.

The research review has been published in this month’s issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

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