Differential effects of obstructive sleep apnea on the corneal subbasal nerve plexus and retinal nerve fiber layer

Katherine A. Bussan, Whitney L. Stuard, Natalia Mussi, Won Lee, Jess T. Whitson, Yacine Issioui, Ashley A. Rowe, Katherine J. Wert, Danielle M. Robertson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is an established independent risk factor for peripheral neuropathy. Macro and microvascular changes have been documented in OSA, including high levels of potent vasoconstrictors. In diabetes, vasoconstriction has been identified as an underlying risk factor for corneal neuropathy. This study sought to establish a potential relationship between OSA and corneal nerve morphology and sensitivity, and to determine whether changes in corneal nerves may be reflective of OSA severity. Design Single center cross-sectional study. Methods Sixty-seven patients were stratified into two groups: those with OSA and healthy controls. Groups were matched for age, sex, race, smoking, and dry eye status. Outcome measures included serologies, a dilated fundus exam, dry eye testing, anthropometric parameters, corneal sensitivity, subbasal nerve plexus morphology, retinal nerve fiber layer (RNFL) thickness, and the use of questionnaires to assess symptoms of dry eye disease, risk of OSA, and continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) compliance. Results No significant differences were observed in corneal nerve morphology, sensitivity, or the number of dendritic cells. In the OSA test group, RNFL thinning was noted in the superior and inferior regions of the optic disc and peripapillary region. A greater proportion of participants in the OSA group required a subsequent evaluation for glaucoma than in the control. In those with OSA, an increase in the apnea hypopnea index was associated with an increase in optic nerve cupping. Conclusions OSA does not exert a robust effect on corneal nerves. OSA is however, associated with thinning of the RNFL. Participants with glaucomatous optic nerve changes and risk factors for OSA should be examined as uncontrolled OSA may exacerbate glaucoma progression.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0266483
JournalPloS one
Issue number6 June
StatePublished - Jun 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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