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9/11 Community Members at High Risk of Sleep Apnea

March 22, 2022 | Michael Barasch

If you were a 9/11 first responder or you worked, lived, or studied in Lower Manhattan on and after 9/11, you have a higher risk of developing 68 types of cancer and many respiratory illnesses, including obstructive sleep apnea.

The most common form of sleep apnea, obstructive sleep apnea blocks the flow of air through the upper airway, producing loud snoring and disrupted breathing.

When the airway has been completely blocked, breathing actually stops for 10 to 20 seconds. 

According to the New York City Department of Health, obstructive sleep apnea stops breathing as many as hundreds of times, every single night.

The symptoms of sleep apnea include choking, snorting, gasping, or long pauses in breathing during sleep, waking up with a dry mouth, insomnia, or restless or fitful sleep, morning headaches, and daytime sleepiness, even with a full night’s sleep.

Major risk factors for sleep apnea include: 

  • thyroid problems;
  • drinking alcohol, smoking, or lack of physical activity leading to excessive weight gain;
  • gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD);
  • blockage of the nose or nasal cavity, allergies or other sinus problems; and
  • exposure to Ground Zero toxins on and after 9/11.

Treatment for moderate or severe obstructive sleep apnea could involve a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airflow Pressure) machine, which provides a constant flow of oxygen during sleep

In addition, obstructive sleep apnea could increase your risk of COVID-19 complications, including severe illness and even death.

Barasch & McGarry represents an FDNY fire marshal who was deployed to Ground Zero after 9/11. As a result of his exposure to toxins there, he developed GERD that contributed to obstructive sleep apnea.

Although he was otherwise healthy, the fire marshal contracted a severe COVID infection early in the pandemic and soon passed away.

A doctor who reviewed the fire marshal’s medical records found that respiratory impairment from 9/11-related obstructive sleep apnea was a “significant risk factor” for serious illness or death from COVID-19.

Attorneys from Barasch & McGarry are now fighting to secure a wrongful death award for the fire marshal’s family.

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