Research suggests there may be a link between sleep apnea and dry eye disease (DED). DED is an eye condition that causes irritation, redness, and discomfort due to inadequate tear production or drainage.

A 2022 study found a link between obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and an increased risk of DED.

This article will explore the potential link between sleep apnea and dry eyes and discuss potential treatments for both conditions.

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The connection between sleep apnea and DED is not completely clear, but several factors may contribute to the relationship between the two conditions.

One of the main factors is that sleep apnea can lead to decreased oxygen levels in the body, which can affect tear production and lead to dry eyes.

During sleep apnea episodes, breathing is interrupted and oxygen levels in the body can drop, leading to decreased blood flow to the eyes and decreased tear production.

Another factor is that sleep apnea can cause people to sleep with their mouths open, leading to increased evaporation of tears and exacerbating dry eye symptoms.

Additionally, machines used to treat sleep apnea can cause air to blow directly onto the eyes, contributing to dryness.

Finally, a lot of people do not fully close their eyelids while sleeping, and a diagnosis of sleep apnea can magnify this problem. This can potentially worsen dry eye symptoms.

Overall, while researchers do not yet fully understand the connection between sleep apnea and DED, evidence suggests that the two conditions may be related through a combination of factors, including decreased oxygen levels, increased evaporation of tears, and air blowing onto the eyes.

CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) treatment can cause dry eyes in some users.

CPAP is a common treatment for sleep apnea. People wear a mask that delivers a continuous flow of air to keep the airway open during sleep.

However, the air from the CPAP machine can cause increased airflow over the eyes, leading to increased evaporation of tears and dry eyes.

In addition, CPAP masks can experience air leaks, resulting in the air blowing directly onto the eyes and causing dryness.

This is especially common if the mask does not fit properly or if a person does not properly protect their eyes while using a CPAP machine.

The first step in treating sleep apnea is to get a proper diagnosis from a healthcare professional.

Treatment options for sleep apnea include CPAP therapy, which can help keep the airway open during sleep and improve oxygen levels in the body.

Other treatment options may include oral appliances, surgery, or lifestyle changes, such as maintaining a moderate weight or quitting smoking.

For DED, doctors may prescribe cyclosporine — a drug for autoimmune conditions — or corticosteroids. They may also prescribe a course of tetracycline antibiotics, as these may have anti-inflammatory effects on DED.

Managing dry eyes and sleep apnea may involve both medical and lifestyle interventions.

Here are some tips on how to manage both conditions:

  • Use a humidifier: A humidifier can add moisture to the air, which can help prevent dry eyes. If using a CPAP machine, a person should consider using a heated humidifier to improve comfort and prevent dryness.
  • Keep eyes clean: Regularly cleaning the eyelids and lashes can help prevent irritation and inflammation, which can contribute to dry eyes. A person should use mild soap or baby shampoo and a clean washcloth.
  • Take breaks from screens: Staring at a computer or phone screen for long periods can contribute to eyestrain and dryness. Taking regular breaks to rest the eyes can prevent fatigue.
  • Blink frequently: People may forget to blink when focused on a task or activity, leading to dry eyes. They should make a conscious effort to blink frequently, especially when using a computer or reading.
  • Adjust CPAP mask: If using a CPAP machine, a person should properly fit and adjust the mask to prevent air leaks from contributing to dryness.
  • Use eye drops: Over-the-counter artificial tears or prescription eye drops can help lubricate the eyes and relieve dryness.
  • Consider a sleep mask: If using a CPAP machine, a sleep mask can help protect the eyes from the direct flow of air and prevent dryness.

In addition to dry eyes, sleep apnea can also lead to other eye complications, which may include:

  • Glaucoma: Researchers have connected sleep apnea to an increased risk of developing glaucoma, which causes damage to the optic nerve and can lead to vision loss.
  • Floppy eyelid syndrome: This is a condition in which the upper eyelid is easily everted or turned inside out, which can lead to irritation, redness, and discharge. Sleep apnea is a risk factor for this condition.
  • Papilledema: Sleep apnea can cause increased pressure in the skull, leading to swelling of the optic nerve head, a condition known as papilledema. This can cause visual disturbances and, in severe cases, permanent vision loss.
  • Non-arteritic anterior ischemic optic neuropathy (NAION): NAION is a condition in which decreased blood flow damages the optic nerve. Sleep apnea is a risk factor for this condition.
  • Retinal vein occlusion: Sleep apnea has been linked to an increased risk of developing retinal vein occlusion, a condition in which a retinal vein becomes blocked, which can lead to vision loss.

A person should seek medical attention if they experience dry eyes from sleep apnea, and their symptoms are severe or they affect their quality of life.

They should immediately contact a healthcare professional if they have severe dry eye symptoms, such as persistent redness, severe pain or discomfort, or vision changes.

It is important to address dry eye symptoms promptly, as untreated, dry eyes can lead to complications and negatively impact a person’s quality of life.

A healthcare professional can help diagnose the underlying cause of dry eyes and develop a treatment plan that may include medications, lifestyle changes, or other interventions to improve symptoms.

Sleep apnea can lead to dry eyes, as the flow of air from a CPAP machine or sleeping with an open mouth can cause increased evaporation of tears.

Addressing sleep apnea and related eye conditions promptly is important to prevent potential complications and maintain overall health and quality of life.