MONDAY, May 3, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Sleep apnea treatment could cut down on traffic crashes and save hundreds of lives and billions of dollars each year in the United States, according to a University of California, San Diego School of Medicine study in the May issue of Sleep.
The study concluded that using continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) to treat drivers who have obstructive sleep apnea could save about 980 lives and $11.1 billion in accident costs per year.
Obstructive sleep apnea, a breathing disorder caused by intermittent blockage of the airway, affects millions of Americans. People with this condition stop breathing for 10 to 30 seconds at a time, as many as 400 times a night. The resulting poor quality sleep leads to excessive daytime sleepiness.
The researchers noted that about 1,400 traffic fatalities each year are caused by sleep-deprived drivers with obstructive sleep apnea. It's estimated that the prevalence of obstructed sleep apnea among drivers in the United States is 3 percent, or 4.7 million drivers.
Of those 1,400 fatalities, about 980 could be prevented if the drivers were treated for their sleep apnea, the study said. That figure is based on a 70 percent success rate using CPAP, the most common treatment for obstructive sleep apnea.
With CPAP, patients wear a mask over the nose while they sleep. An air blower connected to the mask forces air through the nasal passage and prevents the throat from collapsing during sleep.
It's estimated that as many as 40 million Americans have undiagnosed sleep apnea.
The American Medical Association has more about sleep apnea.