Obstructive sleep apnea is associated with a number of other health problems, including heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. Surprisingly, it’s also correlated with another health issue: glaucoma.
Glaucoma is a general term referring to a collection of diseases that result in damage to the optic nerve. It is marked by loss of peripheral vision and later central vision, and can result in blindness if left untreated. One form of this is normal-tension glaucoma. Like its more common sibling, open-angle glaucoma, NTG develops painlessly and slowly over time, but has a unique characteristic: it lacks elevated intraocular pressure, the classic sign of glaucoma.
Sleep apnea leads to hypoxia, or decreased oxygen levels in the bloodstream. If hypoxic episodes last long enough and occur with sufficient frequency, they can result in optic nerve damage. In addition, apneic episodes are associated with a decrease in intraoptic pressure. Add the two together, and you end up with a contributing factor to NTG.
One of the problems of glaucoma is how long it can take to get diagnosed. Because the onset of so many forms of glaucoma is so slow, it may go unnoticed until a great deal of irreversible vision loss has occurred. Regular checkups with an ophthalmologist can determine if you’re experiencing glaucoma.
In the meantime, if you’re suffering from sleep apnea, do something to address it. As discussed here, it can lead to all kinds of serious health issues, and can even lead to an early grave.