According to the FMCSA, this is more or less in the hands of the qualifying medical examiner as they are tasked with determining your fitness to operate a commercial motor vehicle.
Sleep apnea tends to be rated based on your AHI, the average number of episodes you experience every hour you sleep. Note that it is considered low if your AHI is below 15, moderate between 15 and 30, and excessive if more than 30. If your sleep apnea is moderate to severe, it will impact your driving ability negatively.
Sleep apnea has proven to be a serious sleep disorder that gives rise to brief interruptions of breathing during sleep. These interruptions can last up to 10 seconds or more and can take place hundreds of times all through the night.
Within this period, the body’s respiratory activities are disrupted, and the body is in a constant fight to breathe. Owing to that, sleep is distorted and this will ensure you don’t get the air needed to remain in deep sleep.
When it has to do with drivers, sleep apnea has been attributed to excessive daytime sleepiness and fatigue, performance problems, and lack of concentration, all of which can affect the ability to concentrate or drive.
Since sleep apnea negatively impacts healthy sleep, it can also put you at risk for future medical conditions, such as heart attack, stroke, diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and cancer. This condition according to experts is potentially life-threatening and often goes unrecognized and undiagnosed.
However, note that sleep apnea doesn’t automatically mean that you will lose your clearance. If you are bothered that you have OSA, it is essential you get checked immediately.
According to experts, early intervention can go a long way to prevent the loss of your medical card and the development of any other health conditions that might exclude you from driving safely.
Dealing with sleep apnea will not forbid you from getting your DOT Medical Certificate. Your ability to certify will depend on the severity of your sleep apnea, and whether you have preventative treatment.
Risk Factors for Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea can happen to people of all ages and both sexes; however, there are a number of factors that might put you at higher risk:
- A family history of sleep apnea
- Having a small upper airway
- Being overweight
- Having a recessed chin, small jaw, or a large overbite
- A large neck size (17 inches or greater for men, 16 inches or greater for women)
- Smoking and alcohol use
- Being age 40 or older
Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
In order to diagnose sleep apnea, your doctor may have to send you to a sleep center for testing. You may be asked to spend a night at the center where experts will monitor your sleep. Known symptoms of sleep apnea include;
- Loud snoring
- Morning headaches and nausea
- Gasping or choking while sleeping
- Loss of sex drive/impotence
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Irritability or feelings of depression
- Disturbed sleep
- Concentration and memory problems
- Frequent nighttime urination
How Can Sleep Apnea Affect Your Driving?
Since sleep apnea negatively impacts your sleep, it will also impact your daytime concentration and performance. When left untreated for long, it can make it very challenging for you to stay awake, concentrate your eyes, and react quickly to anything while on the road.
According to detailed reports, people with untreated sleep apnea have a higher risk of getting involved in a fatigue-related motor vehicle crash.
A good number of sleep apnea patients say that they barely fall asleep while driving. Although it might very well be the truth, note that you don’t even need to fall asleep to have a crash. You only have to be distracted or less alert — and with untreated sleep apnea; you are not as alert as you should be.
Although the FMCSA regulations don’t rightly stipulate or address sleep apnea, they do indicate that a person with a medical history or clinical diagnosis of any condition that has the ability to negatively impact their ability to drive safely isn’t medically qualified to handle a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) in interstate commerce.
Howbeit, once successfully treated, a driver might get their “medically-qualified-to-drive” status. It is necessary to point out that most cases of sleep apnea can be treated successfully.
What Should You Do Once You Learn You Have Sleep Apnea?
One thing you should know is that the disqualifying level of sleep apnea is moderate to severe since it tends to interfere with safe driving.
The medical examiner will need to verify the driver’s eligibility and determine your medical fitness for duty. You and/or your doctor will need to contact the medical qualifying examiner to evaluate your fitness to operate a commercial motor vehicle and to get help with treatment.
Getting adequate treatment is the only chance a commercial driver with sleep apnea has to guarantee the ability to do his or her job safely and be fully alert.
Just as was noted above, this is indeed in the hands of the qualifying medical examiner as they are tasked with determining your fitness to operate a commercial motor vehicle.
If you have a current sleep apnea diagnosis, it is recommended you focus on your treatment and ensure you meet FMCSA’s compliance standards.
Don’t forget to print a copy of your CPAP compliance report to bring with you to your exam. If you have more than one machine and mask, it is important you come with a copy of each compliance report.