We have known for a long time that sleep apnea is linked to glaucoma. Now researchers are finding that warning signs of the association might appear before vision is lost, in the form of a thinning retinal nerve layer.

This is another reminder that many of the important risks of sleep apnea might not be obvious until it’s too late. It’s important to get screening for sleep apnea whenever you begin to suspect it.

Correlating Sleep Apnea and Retinal Nerve Layer Thickness

Researchers performed a meta-analysis of six studies published between 2011 and 2014. The studies looked at 1034 eyes and analyzed them for one or more of the following:

  • Mean RNFL thickness
  • Four-quadrant RNFL thickness
  • RNFL thickness compared to degree of sleep apnea

To reduce the risk of confounding conditions, researchers excluded subjects who had or were suspected of having glaucoma, retinitis pigmentosa, optic neuritis, chronic uveitis, ocular surgery, ocular trauma, multiple sclerosis, stroke, or Parkinson’s disease.

They found that studies showed a reduction in retinal thickness for all degrees of sleep apnea. However, with mild or moderate sleep apnea, the difference was not statistically significant. With severe sleep apnea, the difference was statistically significant, with sleep apnea sufferers having a retinal nerve fiber layer that was 6.36 micrometers thinner than healthy controls.

How do we put this in perspective? A loss of 1 micrometer per year of RNFL makes a person about twice as likely to begin to lose vision from glaucoma. Your RNFL is a precious resource, and every lost micrometer could put you at risk for vision loss.

Sleep Apnea Screening Now Could Save Vision Later

There are many ways that sleep apnea can damage your retinal layer. Elevated blood pressure can increase the pressure of fluid in your eyes, which puts pressure on your retina, damaging it. Oxygen deprivation can also cause damage to the RNFL.

This damage is cumulative, and hard to undo. It’s much better to prevent damage by getting your sleep apnea treated sooner, which can control blood pressure and reduce oxygen shortages.

If you suspect you might have sleep apnea and want to learn more about your treatment options in Omaha, please call (402) 493-4175 for an appointment with a sleep dentist at the Advanced Dental Sleep Treatment Center.