Sleep apnea is a common but often undiagnosed disorder that has potentially serious general and eye health consequences. Approximately 25% of men and 10% of women are affected, but unfortunately, 80% of these are undiagnosed. High rates of undiagnosed patients may be due to the fact that the best test, a polysomnography sleep study, is inconvenient for the patients and can be very costly as it requires overnight monitoring of your breathing and other body functions during sleep while at a sleep center.
Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when breathing is briefly and repeatedly interrupted when the soft tissue of the throat collapses and occludes the airway during sleep, causing a breathing pause that lasts at least 10 seconds. The combination of disturbed sleep and oxygen starvation may lead to hypertension, heart disease, mood and memory problems, and an increased risk of drowsy driving.
While sleep apnea’s general health effects are more well-known and severe, it is essential not to ignore the potential damage to the eyes. The most common eye issues are dry eye, floppy eyelid syndrome, and optic nerve disorders, including swelling or neuropathy, retinal disorders, and possibly glaucoma.
The treatment of choice for obstructive sleep apnea is a continuous positive airway device (CPAP), a mask that fits over the nose and or the mouth and gently blows air into the airway to keep it open during sleep. Other options include dental appliances that reposition the lower jaw and tongue; upper airway surgery; one-way valves placed in the nostrils to increase nasal expiratory positive airway pressure; nerve stimulators; and surgery.
Lifestyle changes include losing weight and avoiding smoking, alcohol, and sedatives. Some patients with mild cases have fewer breathing problems when lying on their sides instead of their backs.
Controlling sleep apnea starts with being aware of the symptoms, including heavy snoring, gasping or irregular breathing during sleep, and drowsiness during the day. If you have these, make sure to mention them to your doctor. With proper sleep apnea diagnosis and treatment, there is no reason it can easily be controlled and minimize any associated health problems.
The doctors at Eye Specialists of Mid-Florida can help you with the eye-related side-effects of sleep apnea and all your other vision needs. Visit us at any of our 8 locations or call us at 800-282-3937 to schedule an appointment.
Edward Attaway is a board-certified optometrist that practices at Eye Specialists of Mid-Florida at their Winter Haven location.