Researchers have found that people with keratoconus may be 10 to 20 times more likely to suffer from the sleep disorder known as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) than those without keratoconus.
In a study published in the April 2018 journal Cornea, Italian researchers found that of 50 patients with keratoconus (33 men and 17 women), 19 of them (13 men and 6 women) experienced more than five obstructed breathing events per hour while sleeping overnight. These events, marked by pauses in breathing that last at least 10 seconds, are a hallmark of OSA. Sleep apnea is a dangerous sleep disorder that contributes to high blood pressure, heart disease, mood and memory problems.
The keratoconus patients who had OSA were generally older than those who didn’t have this breathing problem (closer to 50 rather than 39 years old). They also had a higher body mass index, wider necks, and a higher degree of astigmatism than those without the sleep disorder. Risk factors for OSA include being overweight, having a wide neck and being male.
“While the relationship between keratoconus and sleep apnea is not clear, this association has been found in several research studies,” explains J. Kevin McKinney, MD, a comprehensive ophthalmologist in Oregon. “This may be another example where the eye gives us clues to the general health of the body.” Dr. McKinney was not involved with the study.
If you have keratoconus, consider discussing sleep apnea with your primary care doctor. Be sure to mention if you are often sleepy during the day, or if your sleeping partner says you snore at night. Your doctor may refer you to a sleep specialist. That specialist can do studies to find out if sleep apnea is keeping you from a good night’s rest.