When Sleep Apnea Turns Deadly

Man in blue shirt snoring on couch

If you have come to see us at Pittsburgh Dental Sleep Medicine, chances are good that you understand and recognize the severity of sleep apnea.  Unfortunately, the dangers of sleep apnea have a history of going undetected in many professions – most notably, in the mass transit industry. Recent train crashes have called to light some glaring inconsistencies in the regulations for mass transit.

According to an article from Sleep Review, a couple of recent railway accidents were possibly caused by “undiagnosed severe obstructive sleep apnea.”  The two accidents combined injured just under 250 people.  A closer look at these incidents reveals that undiagnosed sleep apnea seems to be a concern in transit workers. Additionally, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) drew focus to the safety issues at these terminals. While an automatic-stop option seems a good idea in case of emergency, the article suggests there are “no mechanisms installed in the United States that will automatically stop a train at the end of the track if the engineer is incapacitated, inattentive, or disengaged.”

The lack of safety regulation is alarming.  A quick Google search of “subway safety regulations” brings up an article from the Baltimore Sun discussing the deteriorated safety standards of the Baltimore Metro rail system – for more than a year prior to shutdown.  While these system safety concerns are disheartening, perhaps a more serious point of contention is the operator of these mass transit vehicles.

As a community, we are coming to understand the significance of sleep in an individual’s lifestyle. More sleep research is bringing unknown circumstances to light – such as a person’s inability to recognize symptoms of sleep deprivation in his or herself.  This research must be taken into consideration when safety regulations are discussed and reviewed. Sleepapnea.org estimates “22 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, with 80 percent of the cases of moderate and severe obstructive sleep apnea undiagnosed.”

What this evidence suggests is that an individual cannot be the only determining factor regarding his or her capabilities – especially if hundreds of citizens rely on him or her for their daily commute.This is a perfect example of what government regulation should be all about.  When the greater good must trump an individual’s shortsightedness, we must be able to trust in our government and safety systems.

If you or someone you know struggles with any sleep issues, please have a sleep study done.  If your sleep habits concern you, please schedule an appointment.  Pittsburgh Dental Sleep Medicine can help to bring some closure to an issue that doesn’t have to be dangerous, if monitored and treated properly.

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