It’s time to see the eye doctor

You have been diagnosed with sleep apnea, you got your CPAP, your next visit need to be with…..You guessed it! Your eye doctor! Let me explain.

You need oxygen!

Firstly, obstructive sleep apnea is the most common breathing related disorder. It is characterized by a reduced or complete stoppage of breathing during sleep. This is obviously not an ideal situation and affects the entire body from causing hypertension to diabetes. The effects on the eyes are just as serious. A lack of oxygen can cause a progression of glaucoma, a stroke to the optic nerve, or deprive the retina (the movie screen of the eye) of the oxygen it needs to transmit visual signals to the brain!

Eyelids and Cornea

That being said, the most common eye conditions I see affect the front of the eye, specifically the lids, lashes, and cornea (clear windshield of the eye that a contact lens would sit on). There is a huge correlation between sleep apnea and floppy eyelid syndrome (FES), so much so that I assume a patient using a CPAP has it unless proven otherwise. With FES the upper lid is rubbery and easily flipped. The main function of the lid is to provide protection. FES exposes the eye leaving very little protection for the cornea or the under portion of the eyelids. This can result in “pink eye” infections, swollen irritated eyelids, or you can scratch your eye.

Dry eye and infections

Constant positive airway pressure or a CPAP is the standard of care for sleep apnea. These masks keep you breathing throughout the night and are very effective. However, the masks tend to not fit your face perfectly and can get jostled during the night. This causes a leakage of air directly into your eyes which dries out your eyes and leaves you feeling very irritated in the mornings. Furthermore, if the CPAP is not properly cleaned, bacteria can be blown into the eye and recurrent “pink eye” infections can occur.

Protect and lubricate

The treatment for FES and dry eye are actually very similar. You need to protect your eyes! Moisture goggles, a thicker gel drop like Genteal Severe Day & Night or an ointment like Hylo-Night , or even something as simple as taping your eyes shut when going to bed are good options. This will provide relief from the environment and the air from your CPAP. The gel/ointment will also give an added benefit of lubricating your eyes.

A plan specific for you

As you can see, sleep apnea affects the entire body, especially your eyes. The first line of defense is protecting the front of your eye, but do not discount what is going on in the back of the eye. If you have been diagnosed with sleep apnea recently or use a CPAP machine, make sure to see your eye doctor and let them know what is going on with your health. Together you can come up with a plan that allows you to see your best for years to come!