Sleep Disorders

19 August 2013

Sleep apnoea linked to glaucoma

A new study suggests that people with sleep apnoea are at increased risk for glaucoma and should be screened for the eye disease.


People with sleep apnoea are at increased risk for glaucoma and should be screened for the eye disease, a new study suggests.

Researchers examined the medical records of more than 1 000 people 40 and older who were diagnosed with sleep apnoea between 2001 and 2004, and compared them to a "control" group of more than 6 000 people without sleep apnoea.

Those with sleep apnoea were 1.67 times more likely to develop the most common type of glaucoma (open-angle glaucoma) within five years of their sleep apnoea diagnosis than those in the control group, according to the study, published in the August issue of the journal Ophthalmology.

Glaucoma is the second-leading cause of blindness worldwide. While previous research has found that glaucoma is more common among people with sleep apnoea, this study concluded that sleep apnoea is an independent risk factor for open-angle glaucoma.

"We hope that this study encourages clinicians to alert obstructive sleep apnoea patients of the associations between obstructive sleep apnoea and open-angle glaucoma as a means of raising the issue and encouraging treatment of those who need it," wrote Herng-Ching Lin, of the College of Medical Science and Technology at Taipei Medical University in Taiwan, and colleagues in a journal news release.

Sleep apnoea is characterised by disrupted breathing during sleep, affects more than 100 million people worldwide, and nearly 60 million people have glaucoma. If untreated, glaucoma reduces peripheral vision and eventually may cause blindness by damaging the optic nerve. Only half of people with glaucoma are aware of it, because the disease is painless, and vision loss is typically gradual.

All adults should get a baseline eye exam by age 40, when signs of disease and vision changes may start to occur, the American Academy of Ophthalmology advises.

The study found an association between obstructive sleep apnoea and open-angle glaucoma. It did not prove cause and effect.

More information

The U.S. National Eye Institute has more about glaucoma.

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Dr Alison Bentley is a general practitioner who has consulted in sleep medicine and sleep disorders, in both adults and children of all ages, for almost 30 years. She also researches and publishes on a number of sleep-related topics both in formal research journals and lay publications including as editor of Sleep Matters, an educational newsletter on sleep disorders for doctors.

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