Sleep apnea linked to other disorders

By Ann Griswold • Published: February 6th, 2009
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

A good night’s sleep can be hard to come by, especially for people who frequently lose their breath as a result of sleep apnea. But scientists say apnea is more than just a night problem: It is linked to a host of eye disorders, including glaucoma, the most common cause of blindness.

Many of the twelve million Americans who suffer from sleep apnea also experience other ailments, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity. The most common form of apnea, known as obstructive sleep apnea, affects about four percent of middle-aged Americans and occurs when the throat muscles become too relaxed and close off the airway. People with this type of apnea tend to snore loudly and wake often, which can lead to daytime drowsiness.

Experts say obstructive sleep apnea is linked to several eye disorders, including floppy eyelid syndrome, a condition in which the eyelids turn inside out during sleep. In addition, people with this form of apnea can develop papilledema [pap-il-ih-dee-ma] – a potentially blinding condition in which the optic nerve swells – or ischemic [is-KEEM-ic] optic neuropathy, characterized by sudden and irreversible vision loss in one eye.

While the exact relationship between apnea and eye problems remains unclear, experts say patients with certain eye disorders should consider undergoing sleep apnea screening. Conversely, patients with obstructive sleep apnea should be tested for early signs of glaucoma. As with many medical problems, prevention is the key to good health!