The impact of continuous positive airway pressure treatment on retinal vascular changes in obstructive sleep apnea

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Study Objectives: Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) was recently shown to be associated with quantifiable retinal vascular changes, which correlate with disease severity. This follow-up study examines the response of retinal vascular changes in patients with OSA receiving continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) treatment.

Methods: This prospective cohort study recruited adult patients undergoing diagnostic polysomnography at a tertiary sleep clinic in Sydney, Australia, stratified into 4 groups by the apnea-hypopnea index; control patients and patients with mild, moderate, and severe OSA. At baseline and follow-up approximately 24 months later, static retinal vascular calibers were derived from fundus photographs, and dynamic vascular pulsation amplitudes were measured on video fundoscopy. A proportion of patients started CPAP therapy after baseline assessment.

Results: Seventy-nine patients participated in this follow-up study: 9 control patients and 18 patients with mild OSA, 21 patients with moderate OSA, and 31 patients with severe OSA. Twenty-five patients started CPAP after baseline. In the severe group, patients not on treatment showed progressive narrowing of retinal arteries from baseline, whereas those on CPAP showed a slight improvement (mean, 171.3-165.1 and 171.2-174.0 μm, respectively; P = .012). Arterio-venous ratio was also significantly reduced in the nontreatment group compared to the treatment group in those with severe OSA (0.836-0.821 and 0.837-0.855, respectively; P = .031). CPAP did not seem to have a significant impact on venous caliber or vascular pulsatility.

Conclusions: This study shows that patients with severe untreated OSA demonstrate progressive retinal arterial narrowing, whereas CPAP treatment may be protective.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)983-991
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Clinical Sleep Medicine
Issue number5
Early online date3 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2021


  • obstructive sleep apnea
  • retinal vasculature
  • continuous positive airway pressure therapy
  • cardiovascular disease
  • cerebrovascular disease


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