Glaucoma & Sleep Apnea

The Background

Over the last several years, research has indicated a strong correlation between the presence of Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) and glaucoma. Information from some of these pivotal studies is presented below.

Did you know

  • Glaucoma affects over 60 million people worldwide and almost 3 million people in the U.S.
  • There are many people who have glaucoma but have not yet had it diagnosed.
  • Glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness in the United States. 
  • If glaucoma is not detected and goes untreated, it will result in peripheral vision loss and eventual, irreversible blindness.

  • Sleep apnea is a condition that obstructs breathing during sleep.
  • It affects 100 million people around the globe and around 25 million people in the U.S.
  • A blocked airway can cause loud snoring, gasping or choking because breathing stops for up to two minutes.
  • Poor sleep due to sleep apnea results in morning headaches and chronic daytime sleepiness.

The Studies

In January 2016, a meta-analysis by Liu et. al., reviewed studies that collectively encompassed 2,288,701 individuals over six studies. Review of the data showed that if an individual has OSA there is an increased risk of glaucoma that ranged anywhere from 21% to 450% depending on the study.

Later in 2016, a study by Shinmei et al. measured the intraocular pressure in subjects with OSA while they slept and had episodes of apnea. Somewhat surprisingly they found that when the subjects were demonstrating apnea during sleep, their eye pressures were actually lower during those events than when the events were not happening.

This does not mean there is no correlation between sleep apnea and glaucoma - it just means that an increase in intraocular pressure is not the causal reason for this link. It is much more likely that the correlation is caused by a decrease in the oxygenation level (which happens when you stop breathing) in and around the optic nerve.

In September of 2016, Chaitanya et al. produced an exhaustive review of all the studies done to date regarding a connection between obstructive sleep apnea and glaucoma and came to a similar conclusion. The risk for glaucoma in someone with sleep apnea could be as high as 10 times normal. They also concluded that the mechanism of that increased risk is most likely hypoxia – or oxygen deficiency - to the optic nerve.

The Conclusion

There seems to be a definite correlation of having obstructive sleep apnea and a significantly increased risk of getting glaucoma. That risk could be as high as 10 times the normal rate.

It's highly recommended that if you have been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea that you have have a comprehensive eye exam in order to detect your potential risk for glaucoma.

Mission Statement

Our doctors and staff are committed to providing thorough care with personal attention. At Eye Doctors of Madison, you will find the compassionate care of a small-town doctors' office with the knowledge of a big-city institution. It is our mission to not only treat each patient uniquely but also like family.

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