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Hypertension and Your Eyes: The Connection

Doctors use the term “hypertension” to describe the general condition called high blood pressure as well as the specific condition called high intraocular pressure (IOP). Ocular hypertension is a condition where the pressure in your eyes, or your IOP, is too high. Continually high pressure within the eye can eventually damage the optic nerve and lead to glaucoma or permanent vision loss.

Some possible causes of ocular hypertension include:

  • high blood pressure,
  • stress,
  • certain medications,
  • a diet with excess salt, hydrogenated oils, trans fats, red meat, alcohol, and sugar,
  • eye trauma,
  • smoking,
  • diabetes,
  • other eye conditions,
  • and heart disease.

Other factors such as age, race, and genetics can also contribute to ocular hypertension. People over 40, African-Americans, and those with a family history of hypertension or glaucoma are at higher risk of having high IOP. Generally, women are more prone to develop hypertension than men, and men are more prone to develop glaucoma than women.

Hypertension is a result of disruptions in the aqueous humor, the fluid substance that fills the anterior chamber of the eye and helps to keep the cornea functioning properly. If your eye produces too much aqueous or has trouble draining enough of it, your IOP will be high.

An optometrist can detect high IOP and high blood pressure, in addition to other health conditions, during an eye exam just by looking at the blood vessels in the eye. Usually, there are no noticeable symptoms of ocular hypertension until it is too late to prevent damage. Without treatment, hypertension can lead to bleeding in the eye, blurred vision, damage to the optic nerve, glaucoma, and vision loss.

If you find that your peripheral vision is becoming blurry, schedule a visit to your optometrist immediately because this could be a sign of glaucoma. Although eye drops or prescription medications can’t reverse the effects of glaucoma, they can prevent the damage from getting worse and they can help prevent hypertension from turning into glaucoma.

There is no guaranteed way to prevent hypertension, but maintaining a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and visiting your optometrist at least once a year are smart ways to guard against hypertension and other eye conditions.