Sleep apnea is linked to many dangers to your vision such as diabetic retinopathy , but there’s one that’s less often discussed because it is very rare: the “eye stroke.” However, this is a very serious threat to your vision, with rapid deterioration of vision and little ability to reverse the effects. However, treating sleep apnea could reduce your risk of this serious problem.

Woman looks over the selection of eye glasses at her optometrist

What Is an “Eye Stroke”?

An eye stroke is a condition in which the eye suffers something similar to a stroke that occurs in the brain. In a stroke, the blood vessels essential to feeding the brain get blocked, usually by debris in the arteries. This starves the brain of nutrients, causing brain cells to die.

In an eye stroke, the vital artery that supplies the retina with blood gets blocked. The retina is the area of the eye that includes key cells for vision, including light-sensing cells related to color vision and reading. Although it is small, this area is critical to all sensitive vision tasks. The eye stroke affects the nerves that contact these cells, causing the nerves to die. The condition is also called a retinal artery occlusion or anterior ischemic optic neuropathy (AION). The condition is distinct from NAION (non-arteritic ischemic optic neuropathy), which also causes sudden vision loss, and is also linked to sleep apnea, because AION involves blockage of an artery.

How Is an Eye Stroke Linked to Sleep Apnea?

As with many conditions that are strongly linked to sleep apnea, we are not entirely certain about how the two conditions are linked. However, in a story about a person who suffered from this condition, the doctor offered a potential explanation.

When the body is starved for oxygen, the lack of oxygen can cause the nerves to swell, which could potentially lead to blockage of small arteries in the eye, as well as damage to the nerves themselves. The result is relatively rapid vision loss, which cannot easily be restored.

Treat Sleep Apnea to Protect Your Vision

The man in the article who developed the eye stroke recommended that people stick with their CPAP treatment. Apparently, he had been prescribed the treatment because he had been diagnosed with sleep apnea, but he didn’t use the machine. He said, “be very compliant with your c-pap [sic] because while [sleep apnea] may seem very relatively harmless issue, it can be quite devastating if you’re not taking care of it.”

Of course, this highlights one of the major problems with CPAP: people often don’t use it as much as they should. There are two main reasons for this: CPAP is a nuisance, and people don’t understand how serious sleep apnea is. We work hard to address both these problems.

For many people, sleep apnea treatment doesn’t have to mean CPAP. It can mean oral appliance therapy, which can be more convenient and easier to comply with. By offering a more convenient alternative, we help people get the sleep apnea treatment they need.

We also help people understand how serious a condition sleep apnea is and why they need to get it treated. That’s why we highlight potential dangers like this one, which, while rare, is very serious.

If you have been diagnosed with or suspect you have sleep apnea, we can help. Please call (248) 480-0085 today for an appointment with sleep dentist Dr. Jeffrey S. Haddad at the Michigan Center for TMJ & Sleep Wellness.