New research shows that those with sleep apnea are more likely to develop glaucoma

Over the years, several studies have demonstrated an increased rate of glaucoma among those with sleep apnea, but these studies only proved that the sleep disorder was a marker for poor health in general. New research from Taipei Medical University shows that sleep apnea itself is an independent risk factor for open-angle glaucoma.

The retrospective study took information from data collected across the population and found that those who had been diagnosed with sleep apnea were 1.67 times more likely to have open-angle glaucoma in the five years after diagnosis than those without the sleep condition.

Snoring with sleep apnea

Glaucoma affects nearly 60 million people worldwide and is the second-leading cause of blindness. If left untreated, glaucoma reduces peripheral vision and eventually may cause blindness by damaging the optic nerve. Only half of the people who have glaucoma are aware of it, because the disease is painless and vision loss is typically gradual.

According to the World Health Organization, sleep apnea is a chronic condition that blocks breathing during sleep for more than 100 million people worldwide. In obstructive sleep apnea, the airway becomes blocked, causing breathing to stop for up to two minutes. Symptoms include loud snoring, gasping or choking while asleep, morning headaches and persistent daytime sleepiness.

The researchers hope the study will encourage doctors to mention the increased risk of glaucoma to patients with obstructive sleep apnea and recommend treatment for those who need it. While the association between the two conditions is clear, the reasons for this connection are not yet understood.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends all adults get a baseline eye exam from an ophthalmologist – a medical doctor who specializes in the diagnosis, medical and surgical treatment of eye diseases and conditions – by age 40, when early signs of disease and vision changes may start to occur.

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