What Sleep Apnea May Mean for Your Eyes

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Obstructive sleep apnea may increase risk of glaucoma

August 9, 2013 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

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(dailyRx News) Difficulty sleeping may not be the only problem associated with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). A type of glaucoma may also be associated with this sleep disorder.

A recent study found that during a five-year period, people with OSA had a greater chance of developing open-angle glaucoma than people without this disorder.

OSA occurs when the airways become blocked while you sleep, which makes it difficult to breathe. Open-angle glaucoma is a type of glaucoma where pressure builds up in the eye and leads to vision loss.

"Get regular eye exams if you have obstructive sleep apnea."

This study was led by Ching-Chun Lin, MA, from the College of Medical Science and Technology at Taipei Medical University in Taiwan. The research team determined the prevalence (percentage of people with the condition) and risk of glaucoma in patients with and without OSA over a five-year period.

The researchers analyzed data on 6,072 participants aged 40 years and older from the Longitudinal Health Insurance Database 2000. The sample included two groups: 1,012 participants who had been diagnosed with OSA and 5,060 participants who had not been diagnosed with OSA.

The researchers took into account several factors when analyzing their findings including: monthly income, geographic region, diabetes, hypertension, coronary heart disease, obesity, hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol), renal (kidney) disease, hypothyroidism (thyroid is not making enough hormones) and the number of visits for eye care during the follow-up period.

The researchers found that people with OSA had a 67 percent greater chance of developing glaucoma than people who did not have OSA. The study authors concluded that OSA may be associated with an increased risk of glaucoma in the first five years after being diagnosed with OSA.

Earlier studies also found an association between OSA and glaucoma. Glaucoma damages the optic nerve (which connects the retina to the brain) and leads to vision loss. Some researchers believe that the damage may be partially due to hypoxia (a lack of oxygen) to the nerve. When people have OSA and stop breathing during sleep, they may not be getting enough oxygen, which may in turn lead to optic nerve damage.

Christopher Quinn, OD, FAAO, dailyRx Contributing Expert, told dailyRx News, "There has been increasing interest in what happens during sleep in patients with glaucoma and those who believe glaucoma is more related to vascular/hypoxic insult to the optic nerve will cite this research to support their belief.

"For patients however, I think the important take home remains that if you are diagnosed with OSA, it is critically important to make sure you get a comprehensive eye exam which can lead to early diagnosis of glaucoma at its most treatable stage. Since open angle glaucoma causes no symptoms, taking action when you become aware of this as a risk factor is the most important step you can take in protecting your vision," said Dr. Quinn, who was not involved with this study.

This study was published in the August issue of Ophthalmology.

The authors declared no conflicts of interest.