People with diabetes who suffer from sleep apnea are at a higher risk of developing an eye problem called diabetic macular edema (DME), according to results of a new study.

Sleep apnea is a condition in which a person’s airway gets blocked during sleep causing breathing to stop and start over night. This can disrupt the quality of sleep and lead to other conditions, including high blood pressure.

DME develops when blood vessels in the retina leak fluid causing swelling in the central part of the eye’s retina. This can lead to visual difficulties, such as poor central vision.

Researchers from Taiwan studied the association between sleep apnea and DME in people with diabetes. The study involved reviewing health data from people with diabetic retinopathy over an eight-year period.

The results showed that people with sleep apnea had greater risk of developing DME, and severe sleep apnea showed greater risks of this than non-severe sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea may increase the risk of DME because sleep apnea can cause a decrease in levels of oxygen in the blood. This can lead to problems such as worsening of insulin resistance, increased inflammation and higher blood pressure. These problems may in turn damage blood vessels in the retina leading to DME.

Lead researcher Dr Juifan Chiang, from the Chang Gung Memorial Hospital, said: “Based on these results, we hope that more medical professionals will approach sleep apnea as a risk factor for diabetic macular edema.

“This could allow for earlier medical intervention so patients can keep more of their vision and preserve their overall health as much as possible.”

The researchers unveiled their findings at the 123rd Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, taking place in San Francisco, California.

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