More than 18 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, a sleep disorder that involves repetitive periods of cessation of breathing. Risk factors for sleep apnea include obesity, a family history of sleep apnea or snoring, a small lower jaw, male gender, a large neck circumference, large tonsils, alcohol consumption at bedtime, women who are post-menopausal, hypothyroidism, acromegaly, smoking, age (40 and older), and ethnicity (African Americans, Pacific-Islanders, and Hispanics). If left untreated, sleep apnea can have serious health consequences including hypertension, heart disease, and mood and memory problems.
Can sleep apnea affect ocular health? Previous research suggests conditions such as dry eye syndrome, floppy eyelid syndrome, and normal tension glaucoma are more common in patients with sleep apnea. Another condition is now being added to that list! Recent research from Taiwan demonstrates that eye care providers should be on the lookout for nonarteritic anterior ischemic optic neuropathy (NAION) in patients also suffering from sleep apnea. The study involved the use of health records spanning from 1996 to 2013 for 8,488 patients with sleep apnea and 33,952 controls. Overall, the sleep apnea patients were statistically more likely to develop NAION even when multivariants were taken into account.
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