Ian Purtill is a former heavy vehicle driver who discovered he had sleep apnea after one of his employees was tested for the disorder. Now working as a NSW approved Roads & Traffic Authority trainer and assessor, he is urging drivers to get tested for the disorder.
“For an office worker, the risks aren’t necessarily there, but for drivers it’s a serious problem,” he said.
“Before I discovered I had sleep apnea I was always tired and I snored very heavily. It’s a disorder that affects everyone around you and certainly if you’re on the road and you have sleep apnea, you should be seeking treatment.”
Each year more than 50,000 Australians are diagnosed with sleep apnea – a serious condition that collapses the upper airway during sleep, causing the sufferer to stop breathing. Yet it’s estimated that more than 80 percent of sufferers are yet to be diagnosed.
According to sleep apnea treatment expert and Acurest Managing Director Scott Coulter, the number of undiagnosed Australians was also a concern for national road safety.
While fatigue was commonly known as a major cause of road accidents, Mr Coulter said that sleep disorders like sleep apnea often formed a part of the problem.
“Studies from the Monash University Accident Research Centre have shown people with sleep apnea can be up to 7 times more likely to have motor vehicle accidents than those without it,” he said.
“And while there is little information available to date on the prevalence of Obstructive Sleep Apnea in professions such as heavy vehicle drivers, there’s no doubt such people could be putting others at risk from driving while untreated.”
Mr Coulter, who creates custom-made sleep apnea masks, said the preferred and most effective immediate treatment for sleep apnea was through continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP).
“Many studies have confirmed that CPAP treatment for Obstructive Sleep Apnea sufferers is effective in improving driving performance even after a short time,” he said.