Seniors’ Health: Could snoring be linked to eye disease?

There is evidence that nighttime breathing problems could damage the optic nerve

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Canadian researchers say there is evidence to suggest that severe snoring could be linked to eye diseases such as glaucoma. But doctors don’t know whether treating the nighttime breathing problem would help improve eye heath.

Researchers led by Sukhjeet Dhillon of the University of Waterloo school of optometry in Ontario reviewed the medical literature and found that some studies uncovered increased rates of snoring, insomnia and excessive daytime sleepiness in people with the most common form of glaucoma, a disease which damages the optic nerve and can lead to blindness.

Snoring and daytime sleepiness are symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea, a condition in which the breathing passages become temporarily obstructed, causing repeated pauses in breathing during sleep. One study showed that more frequent breathing pauses were associated with more severe symptoms of glaucoma. However, other studies did not find as strong a correlation between glaucoma and obstructive sleep apnea.

Together, the results suggest sleep apnea could damage the optic nerve by starving it of oxygen, or the sleep condition could simply be one of several factors contributing to vision problems, according to the Waterloo researchers.

Dr. Graham Trope, an ophthalmologist at the University of Toronto who was not involved in the study, says more research is needed to confirm a link between obstructive sleep apnea and eye diseases.

But in the meantime, he says people who have glaucoma and symptoms of sleep apnea would benefit from evaluation and treatment of their sleep problems. “Whether it’ll help their glaucoma, we don’t know at this time.”