People who work in sleep medicine have always been troubled by the public’s lack of awareness about sleep apnea. If you ask your average person about sleep apnea, you’re likely to get a response like “Oh, I think my uncle used to sleep with some kinda machine but he hated it!’
While the public is still largely unaware of the dangers that sleep apnea (a disorder characterized by persistent pauses in breathing during sleep) poses, awareness about the disorder has been slowly building within the community of healthcare professionals. But while sleep apnea is normally associated with disorders such as obesity and hypertension, there is also a growing awareness of the association between sleep spnea and glaucoma.
“Glaucoma is not just one eye disease, but a group of eye conditions resulting in optic nerve damage, which causes loss of vision. Abnormally high pressure inside your eye (intraocular pressure) usually, but not always, causes this damage” (MayoClinic.com, 1998-2012, pp.01). Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness and can be very difficult to detect before the damage is irreversible.
New studies have found that there may be a correlation between Glaucoma and sleep apnea. One such study found that out of 83 randomly selected OSA patients, 33% suffered from some kind of glaucoma (Harby, 2003). 33% is an extremely significant number, especially when compared to glaucoma’s prevalence in the general population of just1.5% to 2.5%.
“Our study rationale looked at OSA because it causes profound changes in oxygenation, circulatory hemodynamics, and inflammatory factors,” says Dr. Rick Bendel of the Mayo Clinic of Jacksonville, Florida. “All of these may influence optic nerve integrity and possibly intraocular pressure, as well.”
Dr. Bendel recommends that all sleep apnea patients be screened for glaucoma. “OSA (Obstructive Sleep Apnea) may be a modifiable risk factor that is easily treatable,” he told an audience at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
Since some forms of glaucoma can be so insidious, screening sleep apnea patients for glaucoma could serve to increase early diagnosis in patients before major damage has been caused. It is clear that Opthamologists and Sleep Centers need to start working together, in an effort to help identify possible patients who could be suffering from either of these devastating disorders.
- Mayo Clinic Online Articles: Glaucoma. (1998-2012). Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). All rights reserved.
- Harby, K. (2003). One Third of Sleep Apnea Patients in Study Diagnosed With Glaucoma. Medscape Medical News. All rights reserved.