Obstructive Sleep Apnea: Fatal for Those Around You?

Metro North Train derailment when engineer had obstructive sleep apnea

The engineer had sleep apnea (photo courtesy Seth Harrison / Journal News)

Nearly everyone in the Greater Orange, Connecticut area can recall the fatal derailment in December 2013 of a Metro North commuter train less than 60 miles away from our office. Dozens of our patients, friends, and staff members ride that train on a regular basis.

In this incident, the engineer dozed off, leading the train to go too fast around a curve and then derail, killing 4 people and injuring 70.

It was later discovered after the crash that the driver suffered from an increasingly common disease: obstructive sleep apnea.

About Obstructive Sleep Apnea

We have written extensively about sleep apnea in the past and have an entire page dedicated to it located here. The point of this post is not to repeat what has already been written. But to summarize, in obstructive sleep apnea, the soft tissue within the oral cavity and pharynx constrict and prevent adequate air flow during sleep.

Obstructive sleep apnea diagram that mandibular appliance from dentist will help

Sketch showing obstructed airway. This patient could benefit from a dental sleep apnea appliance.

The result is that the individual will frequently wake up gasping for air (although he/she may not remember doing so).

A Killer of Other People?

The side effects and possible associations of untreated sleep apnea are numerous and read almost like a “who’s who” of diseases and conditions. These include high blood pressure, stroke, depression, diabetes, irregular heart rhythms, and more. The majority of these conditions can lead to a shortened lifespan.

Car crash photo from untreated sleep apnea

Did untreated sleep apnea lead to this fatal car crash?

But this crash is a brutal wake-up call that a person with untreated or undiagnosed sleep apnea can be hazardous to people around you. When untreated, it can lead to daytime sleepiness, which can then lead to more motor vehicle accidents (three times more according to this study).

And then there is the obvious: untreated or undiagnosed sleep apnea in individuals who work as train engineers (such as this crash), airline pilots, bus drivers, etc. Just look at the Metro North crash to be reminded of what can happen. So it goes without saying that sleep apnea can be a killer of other people.

Many Treatment Options for Sleep Apnea

CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure)

Do you want to wear this to bed? (image from cpap.com)

Many diagnosed with sleep apnea have tried CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) treatment but could not tolerate it. Or others simply do not want to try it. After all, who would want to wear that to bed?

Similarly, many are unaware of dental appliances for sleep apnea. We have helped dozens of patients who could not tolerate CPAP successfully treat their sleep apnea with these appliances.

You can read about the appliances on this page. Or ask us about them at your next dental cleaning. But remember, if you have untreated or undiagnosed sleep apnea, you are putting the other people around you at risk.