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Connection Between Glaucoma and Sleep Apnea?

by Stephanie 28 September 2013 03:41 AM
Over the years, studies have demonstrated an increased rate of glaucoma among people with sleep apnea, but these studies only proved that the sleep disorder was a marker for poor health in general.  However, new research from Taipai 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.

Glaucoma affects nearly 60 million people worldwide and is the second-leading cause of blindness.  If not treated, glaucoma reduces peripheral vision and eventually may cause blindness by damaging the optic nerve.  Half of the people who suffer from glaucoma are unaware of it, because the disease is painless and vision loss is typically gradual.

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, choking or gasping while sleeping, morning headaches and persistent sleepiness during the day.

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 is not yet understood.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends all adults get a baseline eye exam from an ophthalmologist by age 40, when early signs of disease and vision changes may start to occur.

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