Sleep Apnea: A Risk for Developing Eye Disease

A Risk for Developing Eye Disease

Educating yourself about health conditions. Peter Cade

Sleep apnea is a common disorder in which a person has one or more pauses in breathing or shallow breaths while sleeping. Sleep apnea affects more than 12 million people in the United States. The most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). In OSA, the throat muscles relax and block the airway. It is associated with a number of diseases, including the following eye conditions:

  • Floppy Eyelid Syndrome: In this condition, the eyelids can turn inside-out during sleep. The eyes may become significantly dry, causing annoying symptoms such as irritation, tearing, mucus discharge and blurry vision.
  • Glaucoma: Having sleep apnea may increase your risk of developing glaucoma. Glaucoma is the most common cause of irreversible blindness. OSA has been associated with two forms of glaucoma, primary open-angle glaucoma (OAG) and normal-tension glaucoma (NTG).
  • Nonarteritic Anterior Ischemic Optic Neuropathy (NAION): NAION is a sudden, painless loss of vision in one eye often noticed upon awakening. Certain studies suggest an increased incidence of OSA in patients diagnosed with NAION.
  • Papilledema: Papilledema is characterized as a swelling of the optic nerve in both eyes usually due to increased pressure in the skull. This condition may damage the brain and may cause vision loss. Patients with OSA often have a higher incidence of papilledema.

    Although it is not understood exactly why OSA may contribute to certain eye conditions, it is important for health care professionals to be aware of the possible associations in order to diagnose them earlier. People who suffer from obstructive sleep apnea should be asked about possible eye problems and possibly have their eyes examined.

    Conversely, patients who already have these eye conditions should be evaluated for sleep apnea.


    Waller, Andrew E., Rick E. Bendel, Joseph Kaplan MAYO Clinic Proc. 2008; 83:1251-1261.