Sleep apnea is linked to many serious health conditions, including significantly elevated risks of death from numerous causes, especially cardiovascular problems. However, a new study reinforces a risk of sleep apnea that we often overlook: blindness due to glaucoma. 

If you want to protect your vision–and your life–from the risks associated with sleep apnea, let St. Louis sleep dentist Dr. Chris Hill help. He can help you get tested for sleep apnea, then get you a comfortable, convenient sleep apnea treatment you will use. 

young adult woman sleeping in a hammock during the day

Glaucoma: The Silent Thief of Sight

This new study focused on glaucoma, one of the leading causes of acquired blindness in the US. Most of the time, Glaucoma is linked to elevated pressure in the eye. This heightened eye pressure leads to the death of optic nerve cells. As these cells die, a person loses their vision, starting with the cells associated with detail and color vision. This means the condition can affect your ability to read very early in the progression of the disease. 

Glaucoma gets its ominous moniker because it often doesn’t show symptoms until you experience major vision loss. Your eye doctor will test the pressure in your eye, normally with an air puff test, to try to detect elevated eye pressure before you experience vision loss. 

There are two common types of glaucoma: primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG) and primary angle-closure glaucoma (PACG). The angle referred to is the eye’s natural drainage valve. In POAG, the eye’s pressure elevates slightly, and vision loss occurs slowly over time. In PACG, the angle closes, causing eye pressure to spike suddenly, leading to rapid and sometimes irreversible vision loss. 

Sleep Apnea Probably Increases Glaucoma Risk

In the new study, researchers looked at data from about 400,000 people in a UK population where people provided data on their sleep habits from 2006 to 2010. Researchers then looked for incidences of glaucoma in an average of 10.5 years from initial data collection to final data analysis. 

Analysis showed that four different sleeping problems were associated with a higher glaucoma risk:

  • Insomnia
  • Snoring
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Short or long sleep 

However, researchers found that being a night owl or a morning person didn’t have any impact on glaucoma risk. 

Of the four sleep effects that led to increased glaucoma risk, daytime sleepiness had the largest contribution. Daytime sleepiness led to a 20% increase in glaucoma risk. Insomnia led to a 12% higher glaucoma risk, while short or long sleep led to an 8% higher glaucoma risk. Snoring had the lowest increase in glaucoma risk, just 4%. The risk increase was for POAG, the slow-developing type of glaucoma. 

This study can’t say for certain that sleep apnea is linked to glaucoma risk because researchers didn’t give subjects sleep tests. A sleep test is the only sure way to diagnose sleep apnea. Daytime sleepiness is one of the most common sleep apnea symptoms, but it’s not a sure indication. If you suspect you might have sleep apnea in St. Louis, sleep dentist Dr. Hill can help you get a sleep test to be sure.

Likely Mechanism Linking Sleep Apnea and Glaucoma

Although the study doesn’t prove that glaucoma and sleep apnea are linked, the connection between the two seems more likely because there is a plausible mechanism by which sleep apnea could increase glaucoma risk: high blood pressure. 

High blood pressure is one of the leading risk factors for POAG. High blood pressure is also one of the most common effects of sleep apnea. In particular, sleep apnea is associated with medication-resistant hypertension to the point that many doctors consider it an almost certain sign of sleep apnea. If you have high blood pressure that isn’t responding to medication, St. Louis sleep dentist Dr. Hill can help you get a sleep test to see if you have sleep apnea. 

Reduce Your Risk of Glaucoma in St. Louis

This research reminds us that we may not fully understand the magnitude of risks offered by sleep apnea. It’s important to try to combat risks by doing what you can to improve your sleep quality and quantity. 

First, practice good sleep habits. Have a regular bedtime and stick with it. It doesn’t matter if you’re a late owl or a morning person, as long as you’re getting a normal amount of sleep, about 7-9 hours per night. Avoid too much caffeine and alcohol in the evening. Most people should stop drinking caffeine around noon and should not drink alcohol after dinnertime. 

Make your room a healthy sleep environment, which means dark, quiet, and cool. If you are having trouble falling asleep, establish a bedtime routine that includes avoiding screens for 30-60 minutes before going to bed. 

Finally, if you snore or if daytime sleepiness persists, even if you think you’re getting the right amount of sleep, get tested for sleep apnea. St. Louis sleep dentist Dr. Chris Hill can help you get a sleep test. You likely qualify to have a sleep test in the comfort of your home–you won’t need to go to a sleep lab.  If your sleep test shows you have sleep apnea, he can help you get a comfortable, convenient alternative to CPAP. 

Please call (314) 678-7876 or use our online form to request an appointment at the Smile On Dental Studio, serving the St. Louis area from our locations in downtown St. Louis and Clayton, MO.