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Man's Sleep Apnea Causes Rare Eye Stroke, Leaving Him Partially Blind

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Are you a heavy snorer? Does your sleep partner say you sometimes seem to stop breathing?

You may very well have sleep apnea, which can put you at risk for many health problems.

CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez reports blindness may be one of them.

People with sleep apnea often awake dozens of times a night, without realizing it.

Aside from daytime sleepiness, that puts you at risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, obesity and sometimes a stroke in the eye than can cause blindness.

"Last December, I started getting headaches and started seeing blurred vision in my left eye," Richard Stripp said.

That would be concerning for anyone, but Stripp is a forensic toxicologist who had already lost vision in his right eye in a laboratory explosion. He quickly went to get his vision checked and the news was bad.

"Over about a seven day period it degenerated to the point that I only had 12-percent of my vision in my left eye."

Richard Stripp (Credit: CBS2)

Dr. Rudrani Banik, a neuro-ophthalmologist at Mount Sinai's New York Eye and Ear Infirmary, explained to CBS2 that Richard had suffered a stroke in the tiny artery in his optic nerve and that it was Richard's sleep apnea that likely contributed to the stroke.

"The hypothesis is that with sleep apnea, the airways collapse. There is not enough oxygenation throughout the body," Dr. Banik said.

"When that lack of oxygen and potential lack of perfusion can cause the nerves to swell. The nerves begin to swell and then some nerves begin to become damaged and the permanently damaged and that is when the vision loss happens."

Richard Stripp's eye acan after suffering a sleep apnea stroke. (Credit: CBS2)

Richard knew he had sleep apnea but wouldn't always use a c-pap machine that keeps the airways open and the patient breathing at night.

"I never even thought of this," Stripp said.

Dr. Banik explained that while there are some clinical trials going on for this condition, there is not cure and Richard's vision loss is permanent. He has a message for sleep apnea patients.

"Be very compliant with your c-pap because while it may seem very relatively harmless issue, it can be quite devastating if you're not taking care of it."

This kind of eye stroke is rare, but losing your eyesight is so devastating that it's not worth the risk, especially when there are treatments for sleep apnea.

The key is to get evaluated with a good sleep study because often, apnea patients don't even realize they have it.

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