A new longitudinal study out of the United Kingdom shows a correlation between obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and diabetic retinopathy. Researchers found that patients who had both type 2 diabetes and OSA had an increased risk of developing moderate to severe diabetic retinopathy.
Professors at the University of Birmingham analyzed the health records of 230 type 2 diabetics from various NHS hospitals in the Midlands. Some of these patients had OSA and others did not.
The researchers involved in this study used sophisticated retinal imaging technology to determine whether or not the patient was at risk for diabetic retinopathy. They were able to diagnose OSA using a home-based cardiorespiratory portable device.
42.9 percent of diabetics who had OSA developed retinopathy. By contrast, only 24.1 percent of diabetics without OSA developed the eye condition.
After three years from the start of this study, researchers found that OSA patients had a much greater risk of developing moderate or severe retinopathy. Specifically, 18.4 percent of diabetics with OSA developed moderate to severe retinopathy symptoms, but only 6.1 percent of people without OSA faced these challenges.
There is, however, a ray of hope for diabetics with OSA. Study authors note that the OSA patients who used an oxygen machine to unblock their airways every night dramatically reduced their risk of developing retinopathy.
Abd Tahrani, who works in the University of Birmingham's Institute of Metabolism and Systems Research, was the lead author on this study. He told journalists that he believes this study will encourage more doctors to test type 2 diabetics for sleep apnea. Better preventative measures can be put in place if doctors know the increased risk OSA diabetics have for developing retinopathy.
Major warning signs of OSA include extremely loud snoring, gasping for breath while sleeping, or waking up with a night sweat. A few risk factors for developing OSA include smoking, drinking excessive alcohol, and being overweight. Most people who have OSA are male and over the age of 40.
In addition to using an oxygen device in bed, OSA patients can take many steps to improve their quality of sleep. Doctors recommend that anyone with OSA exercise regularly, practice stress reduction techniques like meditation, and avoid drinking alcohol.
Diabetic retinopathy is a complication related to diabetes that affects a person's retina. If not caught early on, retinopathy can lead to blindness. A few early symptoms of this disorder include blurred vision, difficulty seeing in poorly lit areas, and visual floaters. Sometimes diabetic retinopathy presents no symptoms in the early stages, so all diabetic patients are urged to get annual eye exams.
The full study was published in a recent edition of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. Professors entitled their study "Obstructive Sleep Apnoea and Retinopathy in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes: A Longitudinal Study."