Sleep apnea affects more than 18 million adults in the US. This condition has been linked to a number of health problems, including high blood pressure, heart disease and mood and memory disorders. Now researchers want to include blindness in the list.
A recent study found that severe sleep apnea can increase the risk of diabetic macular edema leading to vision loss or blindness. Taiwan researchers also found that sleep disturbance makes it difficult to treat the eye problem in patients with diabetes.
People with sleep apnea experience sleep temporarily during their sleep and repeat respiratory disorders. This disorder leads to sleep disorders and lack of oxygen in the blood.
Oxygen deficiency in the body can lead to changes in the blood vessels, which can increase the risk of hypertension, heart attack, stroke and type 2 diabetes.
] Researchers said in people with diabetes, the effects of sleep apnea could contribute to damage to the tiny blood vessels in the fundus. The damage is called diabetic retinopathy, which leads to blindness.
The study indicates that the combination of diabetes and sleep apnea may exacerbate diabetic retinopathy by increasing insulin resistance, inflammation, and blood pressure. All these changes can damage the blood vessels in the eye.
Researchers analyzed data from all patients diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy at Chang Gung Memorial Hospital in Taiwan. The team followed the participants for eight years to determine changes in their health and sleep.
Patients with severe sleep apnea had worse diabetic macular edema. This group also required other treatments, such as laser therapy, to control the progression of their eye problems.
The researchers hope their findings would help healthcare providers develop plans to treat sleep apnea in diabetics to prevent blindness.
"Based on these results, we hope that more physicians will consider sleep apnea as a risk factor for diabetic macular edema," said lead researcher Juifan Chiang in a press release. "This could allow earlier medical intervention to help patients retain more of their vision and maintain 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: A stroke in the eye may lead to blindness of sleep apnea patients (provided by CBS New York)