How Hypertension Affects Eye Health

Old man getting eye exam

How Hypertension Affects Eye Health

Hypertension, high blood pressure, may be putting your vision at risk. If you have uncontrolled high blood pressure, you may be more likely to develop several conditions that could damage your eyesight. Keeping your blood pressure under control lowers your risk of vision problems and helps you avoid heart disease, stroke, kidney damage, and other serious health conditions.

Why High Blood Pressure Is Bad for Your Eyes

Hypertension damages blood vessels throughout your body, including those in your eyes. When blood pressure increases, the lining inside the vessels becomes damaged and plaque begins to accumulate. Plaque is a fatty, waxy substance that causes the vessels to narrow. As blood vessels narrow, blood pressure increases.

Blood supplies the oxygen and nutrients your eyes need to remain healthy. If the blood vessels in your eyes are damaged or clogged with plaque, you may eventually begin to experience problems with your vision due to:

  • Hypertensive Retinopathy
  • Nonarteritic Ischemic Optic Neuropathy (NA-AION)
  • Central Serous Choroidopathy
  • Glaucoma

Hypertensive Retinopathy Affects the Light Sensing Cells in Your Eyes

The light-sensing cells that make up the retina convert the rays into electrical signals. These signals travel through the optic nerve to the brain and are instantly converted into images.

Hypertensive retinopathy occurs when high blood pressure causes the retinal blood vessels to thicken and narrow, reducing blood flow. The condition may also trigger swelling of the retina and optic nerve and could cause white spots to appear on the retina. These changes can cause vision loss, which is often permanent. Symptoms of hypertensive retinopathy include:

  • Cloudy Vision
  • Blurred Vision
  • Loss of Vision
  • Headaches

NA-AION Damages an Important Vision Pathway

High blood pressure may also affect blood flow to the optic nerve, the pathway between the eye and the brain. Blood flow to the optic nerve decreases as your pressure rises. The change in blood flow can damage the nerve and prevent electrical signals from reaching the brain.

If you have NA-AION, you may experience a painless loss of vision in one or both eyes. Although some people do experience temporary vision loss, your vision changes may not be reversible.

Fluid Build-Up Causes Vision Loss in Central Serous Choroidopathy

Leaking fluid from the choroid, a layer of tissue under the retina, can interfere with your vision if you have high blood pressure. Symptoms of central serous choroidopathy include:

  • Blurry Central Vision
  • Straight Lines That Appear Crooked
  • Dull Colors
  • A Dark Spot in Your Central Vision

Your eyesight may improve in a few months on its own if you have central serous choroidopathy. If it doesn't, your ophthalmologist might prescribe oral medication or use laser or photodynamic therapy to stop leaks.

High Blood Pressure Could Increase Your Risk of Glaucoma

Glaucoma occurs when the pressure inside your eye becomes too high and damages the optic nerve. Glaucoma can cause a gradual or sudden loss of vision, depending upon the type. Although high blood pressure usually doesn't significantly increase eye pressure, it can be a factor in glaucoma and could worsen your condition if you already have glaucoma. Strangely enough, low blood pressure is also a risk factor for glaucoma, according to the Bright Focus Foundation.

Preventing Vision Conditions Related to Hypertension

Lowering your blood pressure can help you avoid eye conditions that could cause vision loss. If your blood pressure is too high, your doctor may recommend losing weight, reducing stress, improving your diet, exercising regularly, and quitting smoking. Although these lifestyle modifications can be helpful, you may also need to take medication that lowers your blood pressure.

Visiting an ophthalmologist for annual eye exams is particularly important if you have high blood pressure. During a comprehensive eye examination, your eye doctor will look for subtle signs that could mean that you're at risk for a serious vision problem caused by hypertension. Prompt diagnosis and treatment can help you avoid permanent changes to your eyesight.

Protect your vision with regular visits to an ophthalmologist. Contact our office to schedule your next eye exam.

Sources:

American Academy of Ophthalmology: What Is Central Serous Choroidopathy?, 12/1/2021

American Heart Association: How High Blood Pressure Can Lead to Vision Loss, 3/4/22

Bright Focus Foundation: Blood Pressure and Glaucoma, 7/7/2021

WebMD: High Blood Pressure and Eye Disease, 6/20/2020

Medline Plus: Central Serous Choroidopathy, 8/18/2020

Merck Manual: Hereditary Optic Nerve Disorders, 11/2021

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