Why Sleep Apnea Could be Rough on the Eyes

Millions of Americans suffer from sleep apnea, a disorder characterized by snoring, breathing difficulties, disrupted sleeping patterns and other symptoms. From high blood pressure to liver damage, sleep apnea has been linked to other problems throughout the body. Likewise, evidence suggests that the eyes might also be adversely affected by this condition.

Poor Sleep, Bad Vision?

A 2013 study determined that sleep apnea sufferers might face an elevated risk of glaucoma. Published in the journal Ophthalmology, this research reached this conclusion upon analyzing the medical histories of 1,000 adults. Each of these subjects was aged 40 and older, and had been previously diagnosed with sleep apnea during a relatively short period of time (2001 to 2004). They were contrasted against a larger control group, consisting of 6,000 people who normal sleeping patterns.

Glaucoma was found to pose a significantly higher threat to those living with sleep apnea. Within five years of developing this condition, this 1,000 strong group was 1.67 times likelier to develop open-angle glaucoma compared to control subjects.

Visual Maintenance

By itself, the study does not conclusively prove that sleep apnea directly causes glaucoma. However, it did find that an association between the two disorders exists, something that the researchers believe potential at-risk adults should be made aware of. In a press release describing the study, study author Herng-Ching Lin stated that “We hope that this study encourages clinicians to alert obstructive sleep apnea patients of the associations between obstructive sleep apnea and open-angle glaucoma as a means of raising the issue and encouraging treatment of those who need it.”

Glaucoma is the world’s second-leading cause of blindness, and is estimated to affect approximately 60 million individuals worldwide. Given the prevalence of glaucoma and other eye problems, the American Academy of Ophthalmology urges all adults to undergo a baseline eye exam by their fortieth birthday.

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