This is Part 5 of a 5-part series on Sleep Apnea Affecting CDL Medical Certification:
- Part 1 – Can A DOT Medical Examiner Refuse You A Medical Card Unless You Have A Sleep Study Done?
- Part 2 – DOT Physical And Sleep Apnea Testing: Are Medical Examiners Caught Between A Rock And A Hard Place?
- Part 3 – Commercial Driver Awareness About The Sleep Apnea Issue
- Part 4 – OSA: How To Know If You Have It
- Part 5 [You Are HERE] – Commercial Drivers Can Manage Sleep Apnea And Maintain Their CDL
Obstructive sleep apnea is a medical condition that can have serious consequences if not treated.
If you have reasonable suspicion that you have sleep apnea, it’s recommended you investigate it further, see your primary doctor and do a sleep test if necessary.
The best thing you can do is to be proactive – before it becomes an issue for your medical card, and before it becomes a serious issue for your health.
How Can You Be Sure You Have Sleep Apnea?
First understand the signs and symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea.
There are a number of way doctors can diagnose sleep apnea.
- The preferred method is an in-laboratory overnight sleep test, called a polysomnogram (PSG) or a “sleep study.”
- A PSG can also be conducted in-home, but may not be as accurate as in-laboratory.
- Other acceptable diagnostic methods are recording devices, as long as they include at least five hours of measurements of oxygen saturation, nasal pressure, and sleep time / wake time.
What is The Treatment for Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
The severity of obstructive sleep apnea is measured by the Apnea-Hypopnia Index (AHI).
Your AHI level is obtained during your PSG sleep test.
Your AHI level coordinates with your apnea as follows:
- Mild: 5-15 apnea events per hour of sleep
- Moderate: 15-30 events per hour of sleep
- Severe: Over 30 events per hour of sleep
If you require treatment for OSA, you should be referred to a physician who has expertise in managing OSA.
There are different potential treatments for sleep apnea depending on the level of severity. Here are some recommendations:
- Mild to Moderate Sleep Apnea (AHI levels 5- 20)
- Lose weight
- Avoid alcohol, muscle relaxants, and other depressants
- Quit smoking
- Periodic movement or mild exercise
- Sleep with your upper body elevated
- Sleep on your side, rather than your back
- Sufficient sleep time to feel adequately rested
- Special mouthpiece from a dentist to open your upper airway during sleep
- Moderate to Severe Sleep Apnea (AHI levels > 20)
- Include steps for mild to moderate sleep apnea
- In most cases your doctor will recommend a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine, which assists with inhaling.
- In more severe cases, a BiPAP machine may be needed, which assists with inhaling and exhaling.
- Another option is a surgical procedure to remove tissue and widen the airway.
The following recommendations were made to the FMCSA by the Medical Expert Panel.
A driver diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea OSA may be medically certified if:
- Diagnosed with mild to moderate OSA (AHI <= 20) AND has no daytime sleepiness. Does not need to be treated with CPAP.
- Diagnosed with moderate to severe OSA (AHI greater than 20). Must demonstrate satisfactory compliance with recommended PAP therapy and report that OSA is being effectively treated.
Conditional certification is determined by the medical examiner
- When you first start using CPAP you will be conditionally certified for one month. You must show compliance with CPAP use in order for your conditional certification to be extended after the first month.
- If compliance within the first month is demonstrated by a compliance report, your medical certification will be extended to a 3-month card. i.e. For an additional two months.
- If, after three months on CPAP, you are still compliant with use, and treatment is effective, your certification can be extended to 1 year.
- Drivers diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea must be re-certified at least annually. Compliance data for the year must be checked.
The most effective treatment is 7 or more hours of CPAP use during sleep.
- The Medical Expert Panel’s minimum recommended compliance is:
- 4 hours of CPAP sleep per day
- 70% or more days.
- Your company/carrier is allowed to impose stricter standards than those recommended by the Medical Review Board.
- Some companies are requiring at least 6 hours of CPAP use, 80% of days.
The Consequences of Non-Compliance
Disqualification from medical certification is likely if:
- You have been found non-compliant with your CPAP treatment.
- You are experiencing excessive sleepiness while driving.
- You’ve experienced a crash associated with falling asleep.
Besides risking losing your CDL and impacting your livelihood, there are also life threatening health risks if you have OSA that is not effectively treated.
Put In A Nutshell
You Can Manage Your Obstructive Sleep Apnea AND Maintain Your Commercial Driver’s License!
Obstructive sleep apnea does not necessarily disqualify you for CDL medical certification.
Treatment, along with lifestyle changes, can help you get restful sleep and maintain your commercial driver’s license. Many drivers who have suffered fatigue for a long time, and then were diagnosed with sleep apnea and treated, report that they’ve felt like a new person since since they’ve been on a CPAP machine.