News story

Motorists warned about dangers of untreated obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome

Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA) affects 5% of the population, but is often undiagnosed.

OSA affects your breathing while you’re asleep, because of partial or total closure of the airway behind the tongue. This disrupts your normal breathing pattern and causes your body to briefly wake up to restore normal breathing.

Obstructive Sleep Apnoea Syndrome (OSAS) is a more severe form of OSA where there’s evidence you stop breathing while you’re asleep and are excessively sleepy during the day.

You may also have one or more of the following symptoms:

  • frequent loud snoring
  • stopping breathing during sleep
  • choking episodes during sleep
  • morning headaches
  • depression
  • frequent trips to the bathroom during the night
  • waking with a dry mouth or sore throat
  • waking feeling un-refreshed despite a night’s sleep
  • difficulty concentrating
  • irritability
  • high blood pressure
  • reduced sex drive

Untreated OSAS can be very dangerous to your health, significantly reduce your quality of life, and is a risk factor for road traffic accidents. Sleepiness contributes to up to 20% of motorway accidents. It also increases the severity of an accident, as driver reactions are impaired.

Pauses in breathing can happen hundreds of times a night, and can mean you don’t get the restorative sleep you need to concentrate and drive safely.

Apart from the immediate danger of nodding off whilst driving, if left untreated long-term, OSAS increases the risk of:

  • high blood pressure
  • stroke
  • heart attacks

It can also reduce your life expectancy by 20%.

Driving with OSA

If you have OSA without daytime sleepiness and it does not impair your driving, you can continue to drive and do not have to notify DVLA.

Driving with OSAS

You are legally obliged to tell DVLA if you have been diagnosed with OSAS or any sleepiness sufficient to impair your driving. On receipt of your correspondence DVLA’s Medical Group will send you a questionnaire. In the meantime, you are advised to stop driving until your condition has been successfully treated.

Failure to advise DVLA of a medical condition is a criminal offence, and may affect the validity of your insurance cover.

You must tell DVLA medical enquiries team at the point of diagnosis or recognition of any symptoms.

Once your symptoms have been brought under control you should reapply using the relevant form found on our medical pages.

Published 18 October 2013