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Sleep Apnea's Adverse Effects On The Eyes

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The National Sleep Foundation estimates that more than 18 million people in the U.S. have sleep apnea, which can impact vision. Both the condition itself and the CPAP machines often used to treat it can cause a variety of eye problems. Therefore, if you have sleep apnea, it's important to be aware of the possible adverse effects it can have on your eyes.

Floppy Eyelid Syndrome

Floppy eyelid syndrome is a condition often associated with obstructive sleep apnea. The condition can cause the eyelids to turn inside out, or evert, during sleep. Other symptoms of floppy eye syndrome include generalized eye discomfort, blurred vision, and watery or sticky eyes. Even if your eyelids don't evert, they may droop. The condition can lead to other eye problems, such as conjunctivitis or damage to the cornea of the eye.


The results of a study published in Ophthalmology found that individuals with sleep apnea were nearly twice as likely to develop glaucoma than people who don't have sleep apnea. These findings suggest that sleep apnea may be a risk factor for glaucoma.

Sleep apnea decreases the amount of oxygen getting to the body's organs, including the eyes. When there is a pause in your breathing for a few seconds several times throughout the night, your blood oxygen level drops. Less oxygen getting to the optic nerve makes it more prone to damage.

Glaucoma doesn't normally cause pain and may not produce other symptoms until irreversible damage occurs. Usually, it happens as the result of high intraocular pressure (IOP), which can lead to the loss of peripheral vision and eventual blindness if the disorder goes untreated. Unfortunately, some of the treatments for sleep apnea may cause an increase in intraocular pressure.

CPAP Machines

Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy can have detrimental effects on the eyes. Reports indicate that CPAP causes an increase in intraocular pressure at night. IOP decreases after turning off the CPAP machine in the morning.

Air also can leak from the vents and sides of the machine, enter the eyes, and cause excessive dryness. As a result, you may have dry eye and related symptoms throughout the day after you wake.

The air that passes from the machine to the eyes can cause bacterial infections as well. Air from the CPAP machine can travel through the nasal passages to the eye's drainage system and then enter your eyes. Eye infections that cause inflammation that blocks the tear ducts can cause severely dry eye, which can damage the surface of the cornea.

Non-Arteritic Anterior Ischemic Optic Neuropathy

Reports estimate that each year as many as 6,000 Americans suffer from non-arteritic anterior ischemic optic neuropathy (NAION) – reduced blood flow to the optic nerve. Research also suggests that there is a link between sleep apnea and NAION.

Non-arteritic anterior ischemic optic neuropathy is characterized by swelling of the optic nerve. Although the condition is painless, it can cause sudden vision loss in one eye and significantly impair vision in one or both eyes. Talk to your eye doctor, such as Valentine Eye Care, for more help.