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How does sleep apnea affect the eyes?

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Poor sleep and a sleep condition known as sleep apnea can cause a variety of health problems. Among these are hypertension, diabetes, the potential for stroke, and dementia.

But did you know that sleep apnea can also be associated with serious eye issues?

Sleep apnea is characterized by sporadic, interrupted breathing at night due to obstructed airways and is often accompanied by heavy, loud snoring. If left untreated, it robs the body of healthful, restful sleep needed to repair itself each night and wears down immunity.

How does sleep apnea affect the eyes?

“A shortage of oxygen circulating throughout the body at night because of sleep apnea can lead to decreased oxygen and blood flow to the optic nerve,” says Sleep Better Austin’s dental sleep expert Dr. Max Kerr. “This can cause the eye to degenerate over time.”

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, here are the most common ocular conditions that frequently go hand-in-hand with sleep apnea:

  • Floppy eyelid syndrome: the eyelid becomes lax due to weakened tissues and muscles in the eye
  • NAION: Nonarteritic anterior ischemic optic neuropathy (NAION), or a loss of blood flow to the optic nerve causing temporary loss of vision (typically in the morning after waking up)
  • Papilledema: swelling of the optic nerve at the back of the eye causing poor vision, headaches, and even nausea
  • Glaucoma: gradual and worsening damage to the optic nerve due to an increase of swelling and pressure inside the eye which can lead to permanent vision loss or even blindness
  • CSCR: Central serous chorioretinopathy (CSCR), a retinal condition that causes fluid to build up underneath the retina

If you are suffering from any of these issues, it may be time to get checked for sleep apnea.

To determine if you have sleep apnea, an initial sleep study is often needed to track your sleep habits and nighttime breathing patterns.

Research shows that these ocular issues can improve and are even reversible when sleep apnea is successfully treated.

How is sleep apnea treated?

If you are diagnosed with sleep apnea, a CPAP machine will be prescribed to help open up the airways and improve breathing at night. This is accomplished with oxygen flow delivered via a hose and fitted face mask connected to the CPAP machine.

If the CPAP machine is not effective or comfortable for you, there are alternative options. Oral appliance therapy involves a small dental appliance worn in the mouth at night. It positions the jaw in the most optimal way to encourage better airflow.

To learn more about sleep apnea treatment and how it can help improve your eye health, please contact us to schedule a complimentary appointment with one of our experts in dental sleep medicine.