Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome, or OSAS, causes a blockage in your airways that can interrupt breathing while you are sleeping. Many people suffering from OSAS do not realize when they stop breathing at night or that they even have this sleep disorder, leaving many people with this disorder undiagnosed. Sleep apnea also puts people at risk for other disorders and complications such as glaucoma, an eye disease that causes high ocular pressure and can lead to irreversible blindness.
Noticing the seriousness of this sleep disorder and the relationship to another detrimental eye disease, scientists at Hokkaido University designed a study that explores the relationship between glaucoma and obstructive sleep apnea. In this study, scientists hypothesized that patients’ eye pressure would rise every time they stopped breathing, further obstructing blood flow to the eye and consequently affecting their eyesight. However, this was not the case.
Image Source: Hokkaido University oia.hokudai.ac.jp
During the sleep study, researchers had participants wear blood pressure monitors on their eye that resembled contact lenses. This apparatus allowed for researchers to constantly monitor ocular pressure at all times. Researchers were expecting to find an increase in eye pressure in the moments the participant stopped breathing. Instead, they found that eye pressure actually decreased when patients stopped breathing.
So how could sleep apnea be linked to glaucoma when the main cause of glaucoma is an increase in eye pressure? Based off the results of this study, the decrease in eye pressure also leads to a decrease in oxygen and blood supply to the eye, causing obstruction to the optic nerve due to hypoxia.
The results of the study are significant not just because they suggest why obstructive sleep apnea patients are at an increased risk for glaucoma, but also give another explanation as to how people can have glaucoma while also having normal eye pressure levels. These groundbreaking results can help lead to a better understanding of both disorders and to prevention plans to head off the horrible effects of both diseases.