What to Know About Driving Under the Influence of Sleep Apnea

Almost everyone knows the dangers of driving under the influence of alcohol, but not everyone is aware of the seriousness of the risks of driving while drowsy.You may not think that this is a common problem, but a survey found that half of drivers in the United States repeatedly get behind the wheel while drowsy and that one out of five drivers have admitted to falling asleep while driving at some point this past year.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that drowsy driving is responsible for 100,000 crashes a year and more than 1,550 deaths. One reason that so many people are fatigued and drowsy behind the wheel and throughout the day is sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a sleeping disorder that affects your breathing and your sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 18 million adults have sleep apnea.

At Lansdowne Orthodontics, we put together the following information to help you better understand this common disorder.

Sleep apnea symptoms and causes

The most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea, which is when the muscles in the back of your throat relax and impede your breathing for anywhere from a few seconds to a minute or more. This pause in breathing causes you to wake up, before falling back to sleep. This periodic waking can happen up to 400 times a night.

Sleep apnea can affect anyone of any age or gender, but it’s more common in men and post-menopausal women. Other factors that increase your risk for sleep apnea include:

  • Being overweight
  • Having a large neck
  • Having large tonsils, tongue, or uvula
  • Having a small jaw or large overbite
  • Having a family history of sleep apnea

Snoring is the most common symptom of sleep apnea. Other symptoms include:

  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Choking or gasping sounds while you sleep
  • Irritability
  • Memory problems
  • Concentration problems
  • Decreased sexual desire
  • Morning headaches

Sleep apnea and driving

People with sleep apnea are particularly at risk for feeling drowsy on the road. Aside from the possibility of falling asleep behind the wheel, driving while drowsy can impair your judgment and make you less attentive.

It’s vital that you pay attention to the signs of drowsy driving. If you notice any of the following drowsy driving symptoms, pull over to the side of the road and rest. Warning signs include:

  • Yawning frequently
  • Blinking frequently
  • Missing your exit
  • Drifting from your lane
  • Losing track of the last few miles

Treatments for sleep apnea

At Lansdowne Orthodontics, Dr. Navin Hukmani, a Board Certified Orthodontist, conducts a thorough evaluation to determine whether orthodontic treatment may address your sleep apnea issues. Subsequently, he develops a customized treatment plan that may include a mouth appliance or braces.

One type of mouth appliance can help support your jaw and open your airways while you sleep. Another type of appliance may remodel the upper arch allowing for greater air volume. Braces are an option for people with significant jaw or teeth alignment issues that affect their airways.

For more information about sleep apnea, symptoms, and treatments, call Dr. Hukmani at Lansdowne Orthodontics with offices in Leesburg and South Riding, Virginia.

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