Glaucoma is a group of conditions that causes damage to the optic nerve, the main nerve that connects the eye with the brain. Damage can lead to an irreversible loss of vision. Although there are a few causes for glaucoma, the main one is an increased amount of pressure in the eye. Risk factors include increased age, ethnic background, and medical conditions like hypertension and heart disease1. Because we know each of these factors is independently linked with sleep apnea, the question to follow is how many of those suffering from glaucoma also have sleep apnea?
A group of scientists recently took on the mission to study the relationship between these two disorders. This group examined a large group of people (114 subjects) who underwent overnight sleep studies after their doctors suspected that they may be suffering from sleep apnea. In addition to an overnight sleep study, the subjects were also given a full ophthalmologic examination to determine the health of their eyes.
Amazingly, as hypothesized, ALL of the glaucoma subjects suffered from sleep apnea. Within the entire group with sleep apnea, over 7% of the subjects had glaucoma, while only 2% of the general population has glaucoma. This may not seem like that large of a difference, but it is enough to cause some worry. There was also a direct correlation between the severity of sleep apnea and pressure inside the eye, as well as the amount of visual field loss2.
There are very few disorders that scare people as much as blindness. And while this study does not show that sleep apnea causes glaucoma, it certainly doesn’t seem to help it! Preventing glaucoma (and thus, vision loss) should be a priority for everyone, and treating sleep apnea is definitely a necessary step in making sure optic nerves and eyes stay intact!
1. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/glaucoma/DS00283/DSECTION=risk%2Dfactors2. Mojon DS, Hess CW, Goldblum D, Fleischhauer J, Koerner F, Bassetti C, Mathis J. High prevalence of glaucoma in patients with sleep apnea syndrome. Ophthalmology. 1999 May;106(5):1009-12.