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How can sleep apnea affect your driving?

Sleep apnea is a disorder that causes short breathing interruptions while sleeping. Some people experience these breathing interruptions as many as 400 times in a night and they can last more than 10 seconds at a time. This sleeping disorder is often not diagnosed or recognized, even though it can be a life-threatening condition in many cases.

There are several risk factors for developing sleep apnea. These include:

-- Being overweight

-- Alcohol use or smoking

-- Sleep apnea in the family history

-- Having a large neck -- over 16 inches for women and over 17 inches for men

-- Having an upper airway that is small

-- Having a large overbite, small jaw or recessed chin

-- Being over 40 years old

-- Certain ethnicities

The symptoms of sleep apnea should not be confused with the symptoms of other conditions. Sleep apnea is usually diagnosed through a sleep study, where your sleep habits are monitored throughout the night. The symptoms include:

-- Morning nausea and headaches

-- Loud snoring

-- Depression or feeling irritable

-- Memory and concentration problems

-- Choking or gasping when sleeping

-- Sleep disturbances

-- Excessive sleepiness during the day

-- Impotence or loss of sex drive

Now that you know who is at risk for sleep apnea and what the symptoms are, it may be a bit easier to recognize if you or a loved one might have the disorder. However, understanding how the disorder affects sufferers when driving is very important.

Sleep apnea can make it very hard to focus your eyes, stay awake and react quickly. Driving drowsy is a common problem in people with untreated sleep apnea, as they are at an increased risk of causing an accident.

If you were injured by a driver who suffers from sleep apnea, you may have right to seek compensation for your damages. An attorney can give you more information.

Source: Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, "Driving When You Have Sleep Apnea," accessed Sep. 04, 2015

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