A high prevalence of sleep apnoea was found in a group of men occupationally exposed to organic solvents. Workers with long term exposure to organic solvents often report symptoms such as fatigue, forgetfulness, and concentration difficulties. These symptoms are strikingly similar to those reported by patients with obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome (OSAS). This is a frequently diagnosed disorder characterised by disturbed sleep causing psychic or somatic complications and daytime sleepiness. A study was undertaken to evaluate whether people with long term occupational exposure to organic solvents have a higher prevalence of sleep apnoea than the general population. Patients exposed to solvents (66 men) were invited to participate in a screening for sleep apnoea. A static charge sensitive bed was used for the monitoring of respiration movements and pulse oximetry during one night. A classical sleep apnoea was diagnosed if periodic respiration movement exceeded 45% of estimated sleep time and the oxygen desaturation index exceeded 6. The prevalence of sleep apnoea among the men exposed to solvents was compared with the prevalence in the general population (1.4%). The prevalence among the participating exposed men was 19.7% which gave a conservative relative risk estimate of 14.1 (95% confidence interval (95% CI) 7.5-24.2). The results indicate that exposure to organic solvents causes sleep apnoea. An alternative possibility is that people with sleep apnoea are misdiagnosed as cases of solvent induced toxic encephalopathy. The interpretation has importance for the caring of the patient.
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