What do sleep apnea and glaucoma have in common? Seemingly nothing, since the former causes irregular breathing patterns and snoring during sleep, and the latter causes blindness from fluid pressure in the eye that damages ocular nerve cells. But they share one dangerous trait: that many people suffering from these conditions don’t realize it until too late. And now, recent studies show that people with sleep apnea have a higher chance of contracting glaucoma!
First, let’s talk about why each of these conditions can be hard to spot. People with sleep apnea experience shallow, infrequent, or interrupted breathing during sleep; these interruptions, called apneas, can occur between five and fifty times an hour, preventing deep sleep and harming people’s energy, focus, and behavior. Most people with sleep apnea don’t realize it until someone else who hears their irregular sleep breathing alerts them. The most common and effective therapy is nightly use of a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, which pumps air at regular intervals through a face mask that people wear during sleep. Five percent of all people are said to suffer from sleep apnea.
Behind cataracts, glaucoma is the world’s second most common cause of blindness, and it can be hard to detect as it often progresses very slowly. As fluid pressure in the eye builds up over time, it damages the retinal ganglion cells, which help connect the eye to the brain. Both varieties, open-angle and closed-angle glaucoma, cause irreparable vision impairment; but while closed-angle glaucoma comes on quickly and painfully and drives people to seek immediate medical attention, open-angle glaucoma works much more slowly, damaging peripheral vision first. Of the 60 million people worldwide (and 2 million nationwide) who have glaucoma, less than half realize it. Medical and surgical treatments attempt to curb (not reverse) its effects.
But the best defense against glaucoma is early detection, and new data about the correlation between sleep apnea and open-angle glaucoma will help patients and ophthalmologists diagnose the problem promptly. The new study, published in the August edition of the journal Ophthalmology, compared 4000 sleep apnea patients to a 6000-person control group and found that people with sleep apnea are 1.67 times more likely to suffer open-angle glaucoma. The science behind this correlation is the next big mystery, but the researchers hope this data will encourage everyone with sleep apnea to get frequent eye check-ups to fight back the risk of glaucoma before it’s too late!
How to use this Information
Do you suffer from sleep apnea, glaucoma, or any other condition that may pose a risk to your eyesight? Call Vision Care Specialists, Denver’s eye health experts, to set up an appointment with some of Colorado’s best eye doctors. Book your Denver eye exam today: call us today at (303) 991-9600 or contact us online.
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