Sleep Apnea and the Health of your Eyes

Many medical conditions or the medications that treat those conditions have the potential to affect your eye health in ways you might not expect. Sleep apnea may seem like it would be unrelated to your eyes, but eye doctors see a number of common and serious eye problems in sleep apnea patients.

Glaucoma

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) occurs when the throat muscles relax to the point where the muscles become an obstacle for air trying to pass through the airway. The result is that the patient stops breathing during sleep. Generally the body shocks itself into resuming normal breathing, but as you may imagine this situation puts the body under extreme stress. High blood pressure develops, which may raise the internal eye pressure and cause Glaucoma. This can be very dangerous to your vision, causing blindness if the optic nerve is severely damaged. OSA patients have a significantly higher rate of glaucoma than most people.

Floppy Eyelid Syndrome

This odd condition occurs when the eyelids of a sleep apnea patient turn inside out. Blurry vision, watering, and uncomfortable eyes are the result. This is generally not a serious condition in and of itself, but some patients who do not know they have sleep apnea will go to eye doctors with symptoms of Floppy Eyelid first, signifying the problem.

Optic Nerve Swelling

Also known as Papilledema, swelling of the optic nerve occurs much more frequently in OSA patients. You may lose vision over time, and eventually completely. The root cause is increased fluid pressure within the skull, again a result of OSA.

For patients who know they have sleep apnea, it’s particularly important to see eye doctors on a regular basis to help diagnose and treat related eye health issues right away. Otherwise healthy people should have an eye exam annually to do the same.

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