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How Sleep Apnea Affects The Eyes

Did you know that some eye conditions are associated with sleep apnea? According to the National Sleep Foundation, more than 18 million Americans have sleep apnea, and Health Canada reports similar prevalence. It’s a sleep disorder where people stop breathing — often multiple times per night — while sleeping.

If you have sleep apnea: it tends to take longer for your tears to be replenished, you’re more likely to have ocular irritation, you have a higher chance of developing floppy eyelids, and you’re at increased risk for glaucoma.

What Is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

There are different types of sleep apnea. The most common one is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). During OSA, your airway becomes partially blocked due to relaxed muscles in your nose and throat. This causes apnea (the absence of breathing) or hypopnea (abnormally shallow, slow breathing). It’s twice as common in men, and is more likely to affect people with obesity, hypertension, diabetes or heart disease.

What are the common symptoms of sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea occurs when the muscles in the back of your throat relax too much to allow normal breathing. These temporary breathing lapses cause lower-quality sleep and affect the body’s oxygen supply, which can lead to potentially serious health consequences.

While snoring is a common symptom, not everyone who snores has sleep apnea. Interrupted sleep can cause excessive daytime sleepiness, fatigue, irritability or depression, headaches in the morning, difficulty concentrating and thinking, and a sore throat.

Which Eye Conditions Are Associated With Sleep Apnea?

Glaucoma

Glaucoma occurs when increased pressure within the eye damages the optic nerve, which connects the eye to the brain, leading to vision loss and sometimes blindness. In some cases, it might be due to a drop in blood oxygen levels, which happens when you stop breathing. However, CPAP machines, one of the most common treatments for sleep apnea, can also cause glaucoma.

So, people with sleep apnea — even if it’s being treated — need to get their eyes checked on a regular basis for glaucoma.

Floppy Eyelid Syndrome

Floppy Eyelid Syndrome (FES) is an eye condition where a person has an unusually large and floppy upper eyelid. It can cause eye redness, irritation, discharge, or blurry vision — and over 90% of people with FES also have sleep apnea.

Non-Arteritic Anterior Ischemic Optic Neuropathy

Non-arteritic anterior ischemic optic neuropathy (NAION) is an eye condition that occurs when there is a loss of blood flow to the optic nerve. Patients typically complain of significant vision loss in one eye without any major pain. Approximately 70-80% of patients with NAION have been found to have OSA.

Retinal Vein Occlusion

Also referred to as an ‘eye stroke,’ retinal vein occlusion (RVO) is a blockage of the small veins that carry blood away from the retina. A recent study of 114 RVO patients found that sleep apnea was suspected in 74% of the patients that had previously been diagnosed with RVO.

Other Eye Health Issues Associated With Sleep Apnea

Some other ocular conditions that are more common in patients with sleep apnea include: papilledema, keratoconus, and central serous chorioretinopathy. Furthermore, in addition to glaucoma mentioned above, CPAP machines are associated with dry eye syndrome and bacterial conjunctivitis.

Talk To Your Doc

Get eye exams regularly to rule out eye disorders and prevent potential vision loss, especially if you have been diagnosed with sleep apnea. At Southern Eyecare Associates in Norfolk we encourage you to share your medical history with us so we can better diagnose and treat any eye conditions or ocular diseases you may have, and help you keep your eyes nice and healthy.

Frequently Asked Questions with Dr. John Dragon

Q: What Causes Sleep Apnea?

  • A: Sleep apnea occurs when in-part or completely stop breathing when sleeping. This causes your lungs to strain harder for oxygen, and makes the brain send signals that jerk your body awake to resume proper breathing.

Q: What are the Warning Signs of Sleep Apnea?

  • A: A common sign of sleep apnea is loud snoring. Snoring that is loud enough to disturb the sleep of the patient as well as others around, even across the walls. That said, not everyone who snores suffers from obstructive sleep apnea.

Quality Frames For Prescription Eyeglasses & Computer Glasses In Norfolk, Virginia. Visit Southern Eyecare Associates for an eye exam and eyeglasses that match your style.

Are Face Masks Causing Dry Eye Symptoms?

woman wearing a mask 640Face masks and social distancing have become the first line of defense in COVID-19 prevention.

While these protective measures are essential to combating the virus’ spread, eye doctors are seeing an increase in dry eye cases among people who wear masks. If you are seeking relief, contact us.

What is Mask-Associated Dry Eye (MADE)?

Mask-associated dry eye (MADE) was first described by an ophthalmologist in May 2020 based on the higher rate of dry eye he was seeing in his practice among patients who wore masks. Patients with existing dry eye reported worsening symptoms when wearing a mask.

When a face mask doesn’t fit securely, it can push air from the nose and mouth upward, onto the eyes, causing the tear film — the liquid layer that coats the eyes’ surface — to evaporate more quickly. This leads to MADE.

Dry eye leaves the eyes feeling sore, gritty, dry and irritated. Left untreated, dry eye can cause damage to the cornea.

There are many causes of dry eye, including eye and health conditions, age, gender and certain medications. Insufficient blinking when looking at a digital device or book, poor indoor air quality and pollution can all play a role. Situations that increase how quickly the tear film evaporates can quickly and significantly dry the eye’s surface, leading to more pronounced symptoms.

What Causes Dry Eye When Wearing a Mask?

Wearing a face mask significantly reduces the spread of air when breathing out from the mouth and nose. Instead of moving out, the air moves upwards towards the eyes’ surface. This forces a stream of air over the surface of the eye, causing the tears to evaporate more quickly.

This is the same reason that eyeglasses fog up when wearing a mask.

When masks are worn for long periods of time, this repeated evaporation may lead to dry spots on the eyes’ surface.

 

How to Prevent or Alleviate MADE?

Here are some simple measures to help reduce dry eye while wearing a mask:

  1. Ensure your mask fits well, and consider taping the top edge to prevent air from rising from your mouth toward your eyes.
  2. Limit your time in air-conditioned or heated environments when possible. Also, take regular breaks from digital devices.
  3. Consult your eye doctor, who will examine your eyes and prescribe the best treatment.

Having to wear a face mask to prevent COVID-19’s spread may cause dry eye, but relief is available. Contact The Dry Eye Center of Southern Eyecare Associates if you are experiencing dry eye symptoms. We will determine the underlying cause of your dry eye and offer you the best solution so you can get back to having comfortable eyes and vision.

 

The Dry Eye Center of Southern Eyecare Associates serves patients from Norfolk, Portsmouth, Virginia Beach and Chesapeake, throughout Virginia.

 

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