A study published last month in the Journal Ophthalmology reports on an association between sleep apnea and open angle glaucoma, the second most common cause of vision loss in Canada. This study, conducted by researchers in Taiwan, demonstrated that sleep apnea was an independent risk factor for open angle glaucoma, the most common form of the disease.
Glaucoma is an eye disease that involves damage to the optic nerve and can cause serious vision loss if not treated. Most often this is caused by high pressure within the eye, but it can also occur in people with normal eye pressure. There are few or no symptoms associated with glaucoma in its early stages, so it is possible for someone to have the disease without being aware of it. Treated in its early stages, glaucoma can be controlled so that vision loss may be minimized.
For this reason it is essential that people have regular eye exams. How regular? Ask your eye doctor how often they would recommend for you. A lot will depend on the number of risk factors you have, and this is where the sleep apnea comes in. If you have sleep apnea, you are at higher risk of glaucoma than someone who does not have sleep apnea. It does not mean you will develop glaucoma, but it does mean you should have eye exams more often than someone who does not have sleep apnea or some of the other risk factors associated with glaucoma. So we can now add sleep apnea to the other risk factors associated with glaucoma. These risk factors are:
- Elevated pressure within the eye.
- Family History – people whose parents or siblings have glaucoma are at a higher risk for glaucoma.
- Age – older people have a higher risk for glaucoma so you need to have more frequent eye examinations as you get older.
- Ethnicity – people of African descent have a higher risk of developing open angle glaucoma. People of Asian or Inuit descent have a higher risk of developing angle closure glaucoma.
- Myopia (nearsightedness) – if you are significantly nearsighted you have a higher risk of developing glaucoma
- Diabetes – people with diabetes have a higher risk of developing glaucoma.
This is quite a long list, clearly one that is getting longer. It is important for everyone to get regular eye examinations, but especially important if you have any of the risk factors listed here. By doing so you can help ensure that your glaucoma is treated and controlled at the earliest stages.