WHAT IS SLEEP APNEA?
Sleep apnea occurs when the airway becomes blocked during sleep. This blockage can prevent the body from breathing for up to two minutes at a time. When the body is unable to get the amount of oxygen it needs, several systems in the body are affected. The theory about the relationship between sleep apnea and glaucoma is that tissues of the eye may not receive the necessary amount of oxygen and nutrients to work properly. In the case of glaucoma, the optic disc is damaged, and over time, glaucoma develops.
Many people who suffer from sleep apnea aren’t aware that they actually have the disorder. If you have not been diagnosed with sleep apnea, but suspect that you may have the disorder, discuss the possibility with your primary care physician. Symptoms of sleep apnea are generally categorized as daytime or nighttime symptoms.
During the day, you may experience persistent feelings of tiredness, anxiety, difficulties with focus, headaches, and depression. Nighttimes symptoms often include insomnia, waking repeatedly, nocturia (waking at night due to increased need to urinate), excessively loud snoring, and gasping for breath. It is common for your partner to be more aware of your nighttime symptoms than you are, as they may witness you snoring, gasping, or exhibiting other symptoms that you aren’t aware of.
WHAT IS GLAUCOMA?
Glaucoma is an eye disease that affects the optic nerve, which eventually causes the vision to diminish and may lead to blindness if left untreated. Glaucoma is typically due to increased pressure within the eye (intraocular pressure), and eventually causes damage to the optic nerve and optic disc. There are two forms of glaucoma: open-angle and closed-angle, but sleep apnea appears to be a risk factor primarily for the open-angle form.
In open-angle glaucoma, fluids within the eye have poor flow and drainage through the eye. For most people, the first sign of glaucoma is loss of peripheral vision, but many people ignore this important symptom until it significantly impairs vision. At the first sign of peripheral vision loss, no matter how minor, you must be examined by your Silverstein Eye Centers specialist right away.
WHAT IS THE LINK AND WHAT CAN BE DONE ABOUT IT?
As mentioned, the link between sleep apnea and glaucoma isn’t entirely clear. One study has suggested that sleep apnea causes poor blood flow to the structures of the eye. This poor blood flow results in lack of oxygenation, and causes damage to the blood vessels that feed the eye, which in turn reduces the flow of oxygen even further. At night, this effect may be more pronounced while you sleep.
If you are overweight, have a history of hypertension or diabetes, or drink a significant amount of alcohol, you are at higher risk for developing sleep apnea, as well as glaucoma. It is imperative that you discuss your risk for glaucoma with your Silverstein Eye Centers specialist during your next visit and discuss your risks for sleep apnea with your primary care doctor. Maintaining a healthy weight, limiting your alcohol intake, and monitoring your blood glucose level and blood pressure will all help reduce the risk of sleep apnea and glaucoma.
To schedule your next examination with your Silverstein Eye Centers specialist, call us today at (816) 358-3600 to schedule an appointment. We look forward to hearing from you and will help you keep your eyes healthy for a long time to come.