The Association Between Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Cotton-Wool Spots in Nonproliferative Diabetic Retinopathy

Halward M.J. Blegen*, Grant A. Justin, Bradley A. Bishop, Anthony R. Cox, James K. Aden, Marissa L. Wedel, Samuel D. Hobbs

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Purpose: This work reports the association of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and cotton-wool spots (CWS) seen in patients with nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy (DR). Methods: A random sample of patients diagnosed with DR between January 1, 2015 and December 31, 2018, were selected from medical-billing codes. Dilated funduscopic examination findings and medical history were analyzed by reviewing medical records. Results: CWS were present in 12 of 118 patients without OSA, compared with 11 of 32 patients with OSA (10.2% vs 34.4%, respectively; P =.002). OSA was more common in men (68.8%, P =.03) and associated with a higher body mass index (30.0 ± 5.0 without OSA vs 33.6 ± 5.5 with OSA, P <.001). When comparing those with and without OSA, there was no association with age; glycated hemoglobin A1c; stage of DR; insulin dependence; presence of diabetic macular edema; smoking status; or a history of hypertension, hyperlipidemia, cardiovascular disease, or other breathing disorder. Conclusions: The presence of OSA is associated with CWS in patients with DR, as well as male sex and a higher body mass index. Further research is needed to determine the ophthalmologist’s role in the timely referral of patients with CWS for OSA evaluation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)495-500
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of VitreoRetinal Diseases
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • diabetic retinopathy
  • retina
  • systemic conditions and the eye


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