By Calvin Studivant,
Alternate Vice President, Bus –
Sleep apnea is a serious ailment and certainly one that should not go untreated. But it also should not be used to discriminate against our members, which it appears some carriers are doing.
There are reports from some of our locals that their carriers are more likely to try and get some of our members who have greater body mass index (BMI) to go for sleep studies as opposed to our slimmer brothers and sisters. The carriers who are doing this are certainly practicing discrimination and we will not stand by and allow this practice to continue.
Here are a few of the risk factors for sleep apnea: having a small upper airway; having a large neck (usually more than 17 inches for men and 16 inches for women.) and smoking.
A few of the symptoms of sleep apnea are: loud snoring; gasping and/or choking while sleeping; irritability or depression, or excessive daytime sleepiness.
Federal law clearly states that if, while doing your physical exam, the medical examiner detects a respiratory problem, he can request a polysomnography (sleep study) which is the only accurate way to diagnose sleep apnea and its severity.
In the event that you are diagnosed with sleep apnea, the following are treatment options: Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP), which means wearing a mask over the nose during sleep so air pressure will keep the throat from collapsing; oral appliances, or devices that open the airway by bringing the lower jaw and tongue forward; surgery, which involves some risk.
Another important note is that states sets their own regulations when it pertains to sleep apnea. Each state has its own authority to suspend a commercial drivers license if the holder has sleep apnea. There are three levels of sleep apnea: mild, moderate or severe, and you must have moderate to severe to be disqualified.
I hope this answers some of your questions regarding this dreadful ailment. If more information is needed, we at the UTU are always ready to assist our membership.