Sleep Apnea and Glaucoma

Do you have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)? You may not know that if left untreated it can lead to serious health problems such as high blood pressure, heart attach and stroke. This sleep disorder can also lead to vision loss from glaucoma.

OSA is a condition where muscles in your airway relax during sleep, keeping you from breathing. You could stop breathing for as long as two minutes. The symptoms of this include loud snoring, gasping for air during sleep, feeling sleepy during the day, and waking with a headache.

Glaucoma is a disease affecting the eye’s optic nerve. As the optic nerve becomes damaged, vision is gradually lost and cannot be recovered.

Studies show that people who suffer from sleep apnea are more likely to develop glaucoma than those who do not have this sleep problem. However, it is not fully understood how the two diseases are directly related.

Researchers are studying what happens to the eye during apnea episodes by having patients wear special contact lenses while sleeping. The lenses detect changes in pressure inside the eye (called intraocular pressure, or IOP). Optic nerve damage from glaucoma is often related to higher-than-normal eye pressure. Researchers expected that, with OSA, IOP would increase since pressure in the chest rises when people stop breathing out. However, this was not the case. In fact, IOP dropped during sleep apnea episodes. Scientists now think that some forms of glaucoma may result from not having enough oxygen in the blood—a result of not breathing normally with sleep apnea.

As the studies reveal more information about the eye during sleep, ophthalmologists are hopeful that we will see new treatments for glaucoma and other OSA-related eye disease.

To learn more about this topic please click here. If you have any other eye related concerns please call our office to schedule an appointment to be seen with Dr. Steve.