Posts written by DennisEstep

Author Bio: Dennis Estep, DO, MPH, FACOEM, is the medical director at Freeman OccuMed in Joplin, Mo. Freeman OccuMed, a service of Freeman Health System, partners with local businesses to find cost-effective solutions to keep employees healthy and productive.

May 6th, 2014

In part one of our series on sleep apnea, we discussed possible signs and symptoms of the condition, as well as diagnosis. In part two, we examined screening and treatment options. In part three, we will talk more specifically about our patient experiences with sleep apnea that have either relieved or eliminated symptoms. Plus, we will tell you the top tips for living with a sleep apnea diagnosis.

Each week, my practice sees an average of three to five patients who suffer from sleep apnea, and that’s a conservative estimate. It’s likely that we see as many as 250 patients a year with the condition. Most sleep apnea sufferers are diagnosed in the home with an at-home sleep study. With today’s technology, very few cases need to be tested overnight in a medical facility. Once a sleep apnea diagnosis has been confirmed (usually the next morning), we work with our patients to categorize their case and create a custom treatment option.

Many of our patients are drivers whose biggest concern with a sleep apnea diagnosis is whether or not they can still drive. With lifestyle changes and treatment, drivers can keep their jobs on the road, however, regulations regarding sleep apnea are on the rise. Other industries, such as the Federal Aviation Association (FAA), are taking steps to require safety/transportation professionals be tested for sleep apnea.

In recent years, we have seen a lot of success in the treatment of this diagnosis. One reason is that the diagnosis and treatment options for sleep apnea have become more accessible, both in affordability and availability. Patients can be diagnosed within 24 hours and can start to see significant improvements in their health in just months.

One of our patients was suffering from severe sleep apnea and needed to undergo intense treatment. He was truly dedicated to making the necessary changes to his eating and exercise habits and lost 100 pounds in just 18 months. Once he lost weight, his sleep apnea symptoms significantly improved to the point he no longer needed his CPAP machine. He even found that he no longer needed many of his daily prescriptions.

While this was a severe case, most patients do report substantial improvements when the treatment plan is taken seriously. This particular patient walked into our office a few months after his treatment began and stated that he had no idea that he could possibly feel this good!

While weight is a major culprit among sleep apnea patients, it’s not always the reason. You can be in great shape and still have sleep apnea. People with diabetes, elevated blood pressure or even those with a large neck circumference are all at higher risk for sleep apnea. If these health concerns are contributing to your sleep apnea, nightly use of a C-PAP machine will help you wake up feeling rested and full of energy.

No matter the cause, some of the top tips to avoid or help to treat sleep apnea should come at no surprise:

· A healthy diet. There are apps for your phone that can help you eat healthier on the road.
· Daily exercise. 30 minutes a day can do wonders for your health. We offer truck-friendly exercise routines.
· Drink lots of water. Avoid pop! Not sure how much water you should be drinking each day? Try a water intake calculator.

It sounds simple, but by following these tips, many sleep apnea patients have paved a road to success and feel better than they ever imagined.

Still not sure if you need to see a doctor about your sleep apnea? Take the Epworth Sleepiness Test. For an accurate insight, remember to answer the questions truthfully.

About the author: Dennis Estep, DO, MPH, FACOEM, is the medical director at Freeman OccuMed in Joplin, Mo. Freeman OccuMed, a service of Freeman Health System, partners with local businesses to find cost-effective solutions to keep employees healthy and productive.

August 26th, 2013

by Dennis Estep, DO, MPH, FACOEM

Truck drivers are often warned about the health risks that could potentially affect their time behind the wheel, such as exhaustion, diabetes, and even high cholesterol. But another issue that should also be of concern to drivers is a medical condition the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) says at least 28 percent of commercial drivers suffer from: sleep apnea. Research reveals that drivers with unmanaged sleep apnea could pose as much risk on the road as an intoxicated driver.

Through a three-part series, we will examine this condition, its risks to commercial drivers and stories from behind the wheel.


Sleep apnea occurs when the upper airway becomes narrow or even closes during sleep. Breathing is repeatedly interrupted and one can actually stop breathing for up to ten seconds at a time, resulting in sleep deprivation and excessive daytime tiredness. There are two different forms of the disorder: obstructive sleep apnea—the most common—occurs when muscles in the back of the throat fail to keep the airway open, and central sleep apnea, in which breathing is not properly controlled by the brain.

So, what causes sleep apnea and how do you know if you suffer from it? Generally, daytime sleepiness does not automatically point to the condition because poor sleep can be caused by a number of factors. Sleep apnea symptoms may include chronic snoring, excessive sleepiness, depression, high blood pressure and difficulty concentrating. The National Sleep Foundation notes these symptoms can be common for a variety of conditions, and the only way to receive an accurate diagnosis is by discussing your concerns with a healthcare professional.

Sleep apnea can occur among all age groups and in both genders, but there are certain physical, environmental and genetic factors that can increase the probability of developing the condition, including:

  • Diseases such as diabetes and hypertension
  • A family history of sleep apnea
  • Being overweight
  • A large neck size (17 in. or greater for men, 16 in. or greater for women)
  • Being 40 or older
  • Having a small upper airway, recessed chin, small jaw or a large overbite
  • Smoking and alcohol use
  • Ethnicity

Want to learn more about your sleep habits and how they impact your health? Visit this website and consult with your healthcare provider for additional information: How’s Your Sleep?

The second installment in this series we will discuss screening and treatment options, as well as how the Department of Transportation is including sleep apnea in their driver compliance requirements.