A recent study shows that people who respond poorly to a vision-saving medication for age-related macular degeneration are much more likely to have sleep apnea than those who respond well to the treatment. This study shows that sleep apnea treatment is a keystone of medical treatment with dramatic impact on virtually every body system.

What Is Macular Degeneration?

Middle aged man taking an eye exam at a doctor's officeMacular degeneration is a condition that causes people to lose their vision, starting with the central, detail-oriented and color-sensitive part of the eye. The retina is the back part of the eye that receives light and changes it into nerve signals that are sent to the brain. The central area of the retina is called the macula. It’s the part of the eye that has color-sensing cells, and it’s also got a higher density of photoreceptors–the cells that receive light–which makes it important for detail-oriented tasks like reading.

Sometimes, this area of the eye can degenerate. In the most common form of this condition, age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the eye begins to degrade. This can result in a blurry spot in the middle of vision, leading to a black spot here a person can’t see. They can also lose certain abilities, such as being able to read or recognize faces.

Sleep apnea is thought to increase AMD risk by several potential mechanisms. It is thought that high blood pressure could damage the tiny blood vessels in the macula, depriving the region of nutrients. It’s also thought that intermittent lack of oxygen could cause the body to think the eye needs more blood vessels. The growth of new blood vessels–known as wet macular degeneration–can obstruct and damage the macula.

A Promising Treatment Thwarted

Although wet macular degeneration is less common, it’s much more serious, and leads to significant vision loss, sometimes quite quickly. One of the best treatments available for wet macular degeneration is anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (anti-VEGF) injections, which stop the growth of new blood vessels in the macula. It works well in most patients, but for some it seems to have little impact. Now research suggests that many of those who do not respond to treatment may have sleep apnea, because patients who received more injections were significantly more likely to have sleep apnea.

It’s possible that the repeated bouts of low oxygen are responsible for this problem. As your tissues sense low oxygen, they stimulate blood vessel growth to improve supply, overpowering the anti-VEGF medication supposed to stop the blood vessels from growing.

This is another reminder of the many and far-reaching consequences of sleep apnea. As we age, it’s important to make sure we are aware of sleep apnea and are having it treated.

If you are looking for sleep apnea treatment in Omaha, please call (402) 493-4175 for an appointment with a sleep dentist at the Advanced Dental Sleep Treatment Center.