Sleep apnea has been associated with many serious conditions, including some life-threatening ones. It’s important to understand that the consequences of sleep apnea extend to virtually every system in the body, including your vision. Here are some of the ways that sleep apnea threatens your vision.
Glaucoma is a condition in which your optic nerve deteriorates, causing your visual field to gradually narrow. It has no discernible symptoms, and in many cases it is not detected until it begins to cause vision loss.
Glaucoma is often associated with elevated fluid pressure in the eye, sometimes associated with elevated blood pressure, a common effect of sleep apnea. It may also be the result of small blood clots affecting the blood supply to the optic nerve. People with OSA may be up to 4 times more likely to develop glaucoma.
Papilledema is a swelling of the optic disc, the intersection of the optic nerve and the retina. It is also commonly associated with hypertension, elevated blood pressure, in the head. When it first begins, people may only experience some minor headaches, but the condition may progress to result in an enlarged blind spot, hemorrhages in the eye, and blurred edges of the blind spot. These visual problems may be temporary at first, but become permanent with prolonged damage.
Nonarteritic Anterior Ischemic Optic Neuropathy (NAION)
NAION is when you experience vision loss due to a poor blood supply to your optic nerve. You will likely first notice it when you first wake up, when you experience a sudden loss of vision in one eye, usually a partial vision loss with a dark field covering part of the visual field in one eye. For nearly half of people, vision will restore somewhat in the affected eye, although for a smaller fraction of people, vision in the affected eye actually worsened. Nearly 1 in 5 will experience vision loss due to an event in the other eye within the next five years.
People with sleep apnea are 2.5 times more likely to experience NAION, and more than 70% of NAION sufferers have sleep apnea.
Retinal Vein Occlusion
Retinal vein occlusion is when the small blood vessels that are supposed to carry blood away from the eye become blocked. When this occurs, you may notice a sudden blurring of vision either in part or all of the visual field for one eye.
This is another condition where the cardiovascular damage caused by sleep apnea results in secondary symptoms. Once vision loss occurs, some people may recover some of the lost vision, although others may not, and some people will experience an attack in the other eye as well.
Preventing Vision Loss
In all these cases, as with many of the consequences of sleep apnea, sleep apnea treatment can reduce the risk that you will develop any of these types of vision loss.
If you know or suspect sleep apnea, please call (303) 691-0267 at the TMJ Therapy & Sleep Center of Colorado in Denver today for an appointment.