Undiagnosed sleep apnea is a danger for many professionals who rely on quick reflexes and clear thinking to do their jobs properly.

One option for treating sleep apnea is the TAP oral device. The TAP appliance, which is available from Evansville dentist Dr. Max Lingo, is a plastic device custom-made for each patient that looks like a retainer or sports mouth guard. It fits over both the top and bottom teeth.

Especially vulnerable to the dangers of sleep apnea are pilots, truck drivers and train operators, who may operate their equipment without getting the proper rest because of variable schedules.

The National Transportation Safety Board has concluded that obstructive sleep apnea has been a factor in multiple accidents involving several different modes of transportation, including a 2013 train derailment in Bronx, New York that killed four people and injured 70.

In that case, the train engineer’s sleep apnea was undiagnosed until after the derailment. Investigators concluded that the untreated sleep apnea led to disrupted sleep and fatigue that contributed to causing the accident.

In 2016, a train slammed into the Hoboken Terminal, killing one person and injuring more than 100. That engineer was diagnosed with severe sleep apnea two weeks after the crash. And in January 2017, a train in Long Island derailed, again leading to more than 100 injuries. Again, the NTSB said sleep apnea was a factor.

Last week, Democratic lawmakers from New Jersey and New York introduced legislation to require that train engineers get tested for sleep apnea. Currently, the law leaves it up to individual railroad companies to decide whether they want  to test their engineers or not.

Metro-North railroad in New York, one of the companies that does choose to test its engineers, found that more than 11 percent suffered from sleep apnea, ABC7 reported.

Sleep apnea and sleep disordered breathing are not only a danger for employees in the transportation industry. Anyone who drives a car or operates machinery while sleepy is at risk of suffering a debilitating injury from an accident caused by drowsiness.

And it’s not just people who work with their hands who suffer negative effects from a lack of sleep. A foggy brain caused by a lack of sleep is a handicap in any workplace.

In addition to affecting safety and productivity, sleep disorders also can increase your risk of several health problems. People with obstructive sleep apnea may suffer from headaches, depression, and other serious diseases.

WebMD lists seven serious health threats that have been linked to sleep apnea:

1. High blood pressure. Sleep apnea can make high blood pressure worse, because waking frequently during the night causes stress and elevated hormone levels and lower oxygen levels.

2. Heart disease. Frequent waking and fluctuating oxygen levels can lead to heart attacks, strokes and atrial fibrillation.

3. Type 2 diabetes. More than 80 percent of people with Type 2 diabetes have obstructed sleep apnea. Not getting enough sleep can prevent your body from using insulin properly.

4. Weight gain. Fatty deposits in your neck can prevent you from breathing properly. And there’s evidence that sleep apnea causes your body to release a hormone that makes you crave carbohydrates.

5. Adult asthma. Science has shown that people who are treated for sleep apnea can have fewer asthma attacks.

6. Acid reflux. Sleep apnea treatment also can provide relief from acid reflux for some patients.

7. Car accidents. People with sleep apnea are five times more likely to have vehicle accidents than people who sleep normally.

Scientists predict that 20 percent of all Americans will have sleep apnea to some degree by the year 2020, a statistic that also can be linked to increasing rates of obesity. Weight loss is among the recommended treatments for sleep disturbances, since fatty tissue in the back of the throat is most often what causes the breathing obstruction.

Not getting good-quality sleep can also affect your mood. Treating sleep apnea improves quality of life and helps sufferers avoid going through their day feeling like zombies from lack of rest. Better-quality sleep can lead to a happier outlook on life.

The TAP device holds the patient’s jaw forward, keeping the airway open by preventing the tongue and soft tissues of the throat from collapsing into the throat, which causes breathing difficulties and snoring. 

Using the TAP appliance provides instant help in reducing the risk of sleep apnea. All that is needed to make the appliance is an impression of the patient’s teeth.

The sleep apnea treatment device that people are most familiar with is the continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, which uses air pressure to keep the airways open.

Some patients have trouble getting used to using a CPAP device at night. They might find it difficult to sleep because they aren’t used to wearing a mask or are disturbed by the noise the machine makes. Often a doctor can make adjustments to make the patient more comfortable, including changing the size of the mask or using a machine that regulates inhaling and exhaling differently.

Patients who use a CPAP machine to combat sleep apnea must use it every night or their symptoms will return. Other devices may be used as well, such as nasal dilators (for example, the bandage-type nose strips) that help keep the nasal passages open at night.

Some patients will be prescribed medication that combats the drowsiness associated with a poor night’s sleep due to sleep apnea.

In some cases, doctors will perform surgery to remove obstructions in the throat that are causing a blockage that leads to night breathing problems. Often sleep apnea in children is relieved by removing the tonsils and adenoids from the back of the throat.

The Evansville, Indiana office of Dr. Max Lingo can analyze your sleep apnea situation and determine what course of action is best for you. Set up a consultation to see if your sleep apnea issues can be resolved with an oral appliance. A TAP oral device may be exactly what you need to enjoy better-quality sleep from the first night on.