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Obstructive Sleep Apnea: Can Rob You of a Good Night’s Sleep — and Possibly Your Job

Getting an uninterrupted, restorative sleep is important for the well-being of your mind and body. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a common disorder that causes your airway to collapse or become blocked during sleep, and where breathing pauses for a few seconds or longer. Normal breathing starts again with a snort, choking sound or gasping for breath.

If you have obstructive sleep apnea, your sleep is usually interrupted many times during the night. Left untreated, other more serious medical problems may develop such as high blood pressure, heart disease, or stroke.

For pilots who are required to be alert, sleep apnea can pose a huge safety concern. That’s why Aviation Medical Examiners (AME) will screen for the risk for OSA using an integrated assessment of history, symptoms, and physical/clinical findings. AMEs are advised by the FAA to be alert for OSA and other sleep-related disorders such as insomnia, restless leg syndrome and neuromuscular or connective tissue disorders, as they could be signs of problems that could interfere with restorative sleep, which are needed for pilots to safely perform their duties. Untreated OSA is a generally flight-disqualifying medical condition.

How is OSA treated? Though several types of treatment are available depending on the severity of OSA, the most effective treatment involves the use of a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) or Automatic Positive Airway Pressure device that is worn while sleeping. In fact, there are currently 4,917 FAA-certificated pilots who are being treated for sleep apnea and are flying with a special issuance medical certificate, according to the FAA.

Dr. Teresa (Terry) Sommese of Charleston Flight Doc understands the particular health concerns facing pilots and other air personnel. When it comes time for your physical exam to clear you for flying, her specific training and medical expertise will ensure you meet all of the requirements for maximum air safety. Her exam includes a medical history review and a comprehensive physical exam. For more information, call today.

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