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Sleep Apnea Effects Linked To Blindness

Medical Daily logo Medical Daily 10/16/2019 Darwin Malicdem

© Pixabay Sleep apnea affects more than 18 million adults in the U.S. This condition has been linked to a number of health problems, such as hypertension, heart disease and mood and memory problems. Now, researchers want to include blindness to the list. 

A new study found that severe sleep apnea could increase the risk of diabetic macular edema, which causes vision loss or blindness. Researchers from Taiwan also found the sleep disorder makes the eye problem more difficult to treat in patients with diabetes. 

People with sleep apnea experience briefly and repeatedly interrupted breathing during sleep. This disorder causes disrupted sleep and a drop in blood oxygen levels.

Lack of oxygen in the body could lead to changes in blood vessels that could increase an individual’s risk of developing hypertension, heart attacks, stroke and type 2 diabetes.

Researchers said in people with diabetes, the effects of sleep apnea could contribute to the damage in the tiny blood vessels at the back of the eye. The damage is known as diabetic retinopathy, which leads to blindness.

The study states the combination of diabetes and sleep apnea could worsen diabetic retinopathy by increasing insulin resistance, inflammation and blood pressure. All of these changes can damage the blood vessels in the eye.

The researchers analyzed data from all patients diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy at Chang Gung Memorial Hospital in Taiwan. The team followed participants for eight years to see changes in their health and sleep. 

The patients who developed severe sleep apnea had worse diabetic macular edema. This group also required more treatments, such as laser therapy, to control the progression of their eye problems.

The researchers hope their findings would guide healthcare providers in creating plans to treat sleep apnea in people with diabetes to help avoid blindness. 

"Based on these results, we hope that more medical professionals will approach sleep apnea as a risk factor for diabetic macular edema," lead researcher Juifan Chiang said in a press release. "This could allow for earlier medical intervention so patients can keep more of their vision and preserve their overall health as much as possible."

The researchers presented their study at the recent Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Ophthalmology. 

Related video: Stroke In Eye Could Cause Blindness For Sleep Apnea Patients (Provided by CBS New York)


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