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Are Sleep Apnea Side Effects Putting Your Members in Danger?

By Tracey Lewis | Oct 4, 2018

Workers with sleep apnea can face serious challenges on the job. While your members may experience the primary symptoms of this disorder at home, sleep apnea side effects can have a pernicious impact on the quality — and safety — of their work.

Here's how you can educate your members about the dangers of untreated sleep apnea and support them in seeking treatment.

What Is Sleep Apnea?

The American Sleep Apnea Association (ASAA) defines the disorder as "an involuntary cessation of breathing that occurs while the patient is asleep." In plainer terms, this means that the sufferer could stop breathing potentially hundreds of times a night, typically without fully waking.

Caused by airway blockages, obstructive sleep apnea is the most common of the three types, which also include central and complex sleep apnea. Impacting more than 18 million Americans, sleep apnea is more common among men than among women, with African-American and Hispanic men at the highest risk.

The ASAA notes the wide range of sleep apnea side effects, from heart disease and diabetes to depression and drowsiness. The condition is often associated with loud snoring, though other symptoms may include waking in the middle of the night short of breath or in the morning with a dry mouth or a headache.

Sleep Apnea On the Job

While the side effects and risks listed above represent causes for concern for members in any industry, the irregular hours worked by those in firefighting, policing, nursing and other 24-hour environments can complicate things further. Even members in nine-to-five positions — especially those who work with heavy equipment — can put themselves and others in grave danger if they find themselves tired on the job.

In fact, a Canadian study conducted among more than 1,200 people over the course of five years found that sleep apnea sufferers were twice as likely to report a worksite injury as workers without the disorder, Reuters reported.

Short of worst-case scenarios like falling asleep behind the wheel or while operating heavy machinery, workers who are tired during the day (or suffer from the other conditions associated with sleep apnea) are likely to face concentration and stress issues that make it difficult for them to perform to their full potential.

Supporting Members With Sleep Apnea

While some members may think they just have a bad snoring problem, education on the symptoms, side effects and dangers of sleep apnea can alert them to a more serious issue.

To raise awareness for this disorder, start by sharing educational worksite posters, flyers or emails. Pair this with information about the health benefits members have at their disposal to seek affordable treatment. Encourage members to raise any sleep issues they have with their primary care physicians, who may recommend a lab or in-home sleep study. Because this is the only definitive means of diagnosing sleep apnea, as the ASAA notes, it's important that members' benefits cover this option.

It may also be wise to work with stewards to help identify members who show signs of sleep apnea on the job so that they can be approached individually. Even if they don't have sleep apnea, uncovering and treating the sources of symptoms like daytime drowsiness is a good idea. Just be careful not to violate a member's right to privacy.

Helping raise awareness of a health problem that members only experience at home but that deeply affects their performance on the job isn't an easy task, but with the information above, it's far from impossible.

Tracey Lewis, journalist and author, focuses primarily on B2B health care, financial services and other internal corporate communications. Author of a best-selling, pop-culture book published by Random House Books, and a trained oral historian, Tracey also enjoys delving into music, arts and film content. Skilled in SEO optimization and digital storytelling, she knows how to collaborate with communications, policy, research, legal and designer teams to create and execute cohesive content strategies.