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How Sleep Apnea Affects Your Eyes

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Sleep is sometimes called shut-eye, and good quality sleep is important for eye health. A recent paper from the Mayo Clinic describes eye conditions associated with sleep disorders, especially obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Patients with OSA stop breathing for periods of 10 seconds to two minutes while asleep, and may awaken choking in severe cases. The blood oxygen falls to about 90 percent of normal in mild cases, or less than 30 percent in severe cases. The blood pressure spikes to high levels. These changes in blood pressure and oxygen are believed to cause a number of health issues, including the eye conditions reported.

Floppy eyelid syndrome. This was first described in 1981. The eyelids are easily everted (turned inside out), and patients sometimes report waking up with everted eyelids. Other symptoms include watering, stickiness, discomfort, blurred vision, downward pointing eyelashes, and eyelid droop or inversion. Patients often develop conjunctivitis and corneal injury. Almost all (96 percent to 100 percent in reported studies) patients with floppy eyelid syndrome also have obstructive sleep apnea. The cause is not well understood. Researchers suggest mechanical stress from rubbing and stretching of the eyelid against the pillow while the patient is asleep, as well as the stress of low oxygen and spikes in blood pressure.

Glaucoma. Patients with primary open angle glaucoma (the most common type) and normal tension glaucoma were found to have a prevalence of obstructive sleep apnea of 20 percent to 57 percent. The authors recommend that all patients diagnosed with sleep apnea be tested for glaucoma, and vice versa.

Optic neuropathy Up to 6,000 patients per year in the U.S. are diagnosed with nonarteritic anterior ischemic optic neuropathy, and in published studies, 71 percent to 89 percent also have sleep apnea.

Papilledema This is a less common eye condition associated with sleep apnea, but it may lead to blindness. The authors recommend screening sleep apnea patients.

CPAP eye complications. The standard treatment for sleep apnea is continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, delivered by a device connected to a face mask or intranasal interface. A poorly fitting mask may blow air into the eyes, causing dry eyes and increased susceptibility to bacterial infection. Retrograde movement of air and mucus from the nasal passage through the tear ducts and into the eyes may also increase the risk of eye infection and corneal damage.

Sleep apnea does not always wake the patient fully, so you may not know you have a mild case. Your eye doctor can detect the possible eye complications in a standard exam.


Waller EA et al, “Sleep Disorders and the Eye”, Mayo Clin Proc. November 2008; 83(11): 1251-61.

Linda Fugate is a scientist and writer in Austin, Texas. She has a Ph.D. in Physics and an M.S. in Macromolecular Science and Engineering. Her background includes academic and industrial research in materials science. She currently writes song lyrics and health articles.

Add a Comment4 Comments

Linda, Your article really struck home for me. I was just diagnosed with Sleep apnea. I will be receiving my mask anyday. Mine will be hooked up to a warm air system. My snoring scored really high on the results, and
my diabetic neuropathy and restless leg syndrome had a field day. My legs jumped a total of 548 time in 6 hours of sleep. During this time, I was never in REM sleep. They informed me that the mask will stop and/or help a lot of the problems that I have. Snoring, leg jumps, waking up tired, extremely dry eyes and nasal passages, also eliminate most of the symptoms of undiagnosed narcolepsy. I have been known to fall asleep while using my computer, while eating, while having a bowel movement, while taking on the phone, etc....
You really have to just read all this and it becomes slightly comical. For myself, I mean. Thanks for a very interesting article. Sincerely, Lioness111. P>S> I will post and update and let everyone know how it works for me. My mask will also have a warm, moist air system. It will also eleviate the need for me to need to
use oxygen at night.Lioness111 done!

March 31, 2010 - 5:21pm
EmpowHER Guest

CPAP blows pressured air into my nose to inflate my throat so that it does not collapse while I sleep. For 20 years that has happened. What the docs and techs do not understand is that pressure, eight hours a night, like the Chinese torture drip drops, has effects. The sinus cavities are connected with outflows in several places including the tear ducts around the eyes. I awake to vision problems always, and I wait, for the CPAP pressure to go away and vision to regain focus. My docs do not believe me. They will not believe until they get to read astudy about this problem. So, for many years they will make up stuff, and call it floppy eyelids or whatever. Additional problems with CPAP include the pressure of the harness which reshapes the skull. If I start claiming it is making me smarter, maybe then they will listen??? Hey ... I know you won't do this either ... but someone oneday will listen to the person with the affliction and the treatment. Not a doc or a media specialist, not a nurse malpriactionist or researcher. Nope. They gotta go get some numbers from a study and trace a curve and then tell somebody what to build to make our life half so nice.

March 31, 2010 - 4:36pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

It takes me a good hour after I wake up to et rid of the blurry eyes. I thought my eyes were going bad, but this makes ore sense that it's my cpap machine.

June 30, 2014 - 8:50pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

I've had mine for about a month now and I am experiencing the same thing. If I wake up in the middle of the night, I can't even see what time it is until I take my mask off and wait for a bit.

September 17, 2012 - 5:21pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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