01/01/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Eyes Have It

The associations made in medicine can be quite amazing. I just read an article online that summarizes the possible links between a common sleep disorder and eye disease. Plenty has been written about the connections between sleep and conditions like heart disease and obesity, but eye disorders? It doesn't seem like an intuitive relationship. That is, until you dig a little deeper.

The sleep disorder in question is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which afflicts more than 12 million Americans and is characterized by repeated stops and starts of breathing during sleep when throat muscles relax and block the airway. When left untreated, OSA can trigger a variety of health problems, some of which can become evident in the eye when they affect the vascular system. When a doctor looks into your eyes during an exam, he or she is checking on how healthy the blood vessels at the back appear. If they don't look right, then your doctor will want to understand why -- and what the root cause of the problem is.

For some doctors, OSA may not seem like an obvious culprit.

Another sign of OSA could be floppy eye syndrome. This sounds more painful that it is: the eyelids turn inside-out spontaneously during the night, causing excessive watering and discomfort. While not a serious medical problem, OSA could be the underlying cause here, too, which can lead to more serious health problems that eventually show up in the eye.

The lesson here is simple: eye disorders or disease don't necessarily have to be isolated problems. They are often signs of other conditions in the body that affect the health of the eye. Having a doctor well-trained in looking beyond the eye itself to uncover remote -- albeit fundamental -- problems is important.

Proof that they eyes really do have it. How well you are sleeping isn't just written on your face. It's written in your eyes, too. Windows, indeed.

This article on sleep is also available at Dr. Breus's official blog, The Insomnia Blog.