Sleep apnea and glaucoma

According to the National Eye Institute, glaucoma is a group of diseases that damage that eye’s optic nerve. If this nerve is damaged, the result can be vision loss or total blindness if treatment is not sought early. For this reason, glaucoma is something that should be minimized. Risk factors for glaucoma include increased ocular pressure and increased blood pressure. Since we know sleep apnea and increased blood pressure are tightly linked, might sleep apnea also be a risk factor for developing glaucoma? Previous reports say both yes and no. Because there have been conflicting results on whether these two disorders are linked, another study was conducted that used a large population of 100 participants.

These 100 participants were chosen because they had established sleep apnea, meaning they had already undergone an overnight sleep study and had been diagnosed. The population was an older group (average age around 60), which is around the age when individuals should be worrying about glaucoma. These participants were then given an ophthalmological examination. They underwent standard procedures to examine the optic nerve, including tonometry, static perimetry and dilated fundus photography, which test vision and eye pressure.

Results showed that the prevalence of glaucoma in the sleep apnea population was merely 2%. This is very similar to the prevalence in the normal, non-apneic population.

These results indicate that sleep apnea may not be a risk factor for glaucoma. This is great news! Typically, the sleep fragmentation and repeated oxygen deprivation that occur as a result of sleep apnea are very detrimental to the body. It seems that whenever we check to see if sleep apnea makes something worse, it does! So, for now, your eyes may be safe. Regardless, keep up with regular eye checks and also regular sleep physician check-ins! And overall, have your sleep apnea treated and stay treated in order to protect the rest of your body! 

Gross, N. J., Funk, J., Pache, M., van der List, M., Laubmann-Volz, A., Sorichter, S., & Lagrèze, W. A. (2015). [Prevalence of glaucoma in obstructive sleep apnea.]. Der Ophthalmologe: Zeitschrift der Deutschen Ophthalmologischen Gesellschaft.

Janna Mantua


Janna is a PhD Student / Graduate Research Assistant at University of Massachusetts Amherst with a background in clinical sleep research and psychology. Janna Mantua is a PhD student in the Behavioral Neuroscience department at the University of Massachusetts. Her research focuses on sleep and aging, with specific projects on cognitive health, inflammation, memory formation, and neuroimaging. Prior to her PhD work, Janna was involved in research on sleep apnea and cognitive decline at the NYU Sleep Disorders Center.

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