If you have blood pressure (or hypertension), you probably didn't know that it can affect many parts of your body—including your eyes. So, be sure to schedule a comprehensive eye exam to check that no eye conditions may be threatening your vision.
What's the Link Between High Blood Pressure and Eye Problems?
You see, the blood vessels in the eyes are thin and fragile, meaning that high blood pressure increases the risk of developing eye conditions that can cause vision loss. Below is a list of these eye diseases:
Retinopathy is caused by disrupted blood flow to the retina, the light-sensitive layer at the back of the eye. It can begin with blurred vision and lead to extensive vision loss. Although retinopathy is commonly associated with diabetes, people with hypertension also have a high risk of developing retinopathy.
Symptoms of retinopathy may include:
- Blurriness or seeing spots
- Eye pain or redness
- Problems with night vision
Often, retinopathy doesn’t display any noticeable symptoms in its early stages. For this reason, if you have diabetes or high blood pressure, you should schedule regular dilated pupil eye exams. Doing so will enable your optometrist to look closely at your retina to search for signs of eye disease.
If you have retinopathy, your optometrist may recommend the following treatments:
- Eye injections that can prevent abnormal growth and leakage of retinal blood vessels
- Laser photocoagulation - stops leakage of blood vessels in the retina
- Vitrectomy - removes blood that has leaked into the vitreous humor, the clear gel that fills the space between the lens of the eye and the retina
High blood pressure can also cause leakage from the layer of blood vessels that supply nutrients to the back part of the retina, called the choroid. Leakage of blood from these vessels can result in scarring, leading to significant vision loss.
Symptoms of choroidopathy include:
- Blurred vision
- Reduced color and contrast sensitivity
- Problems with night vision
To check for choroidopathy, your optometrist will use advanced technology to examine the back of your eye. In some cases, they will use 3D digital images of your retina to look for fluid buildup and leakage in the retina.
If you've been diagnosed with choroidopathy, you may be given eye injections or laser treatment to reduce fluid buildup and prevent leakage.
Hypertension affects the way blood flows into the eyes’ vascular system. This can damage the optic nerve, which sends all the visual signals from the eyes to the brain. In severe cases, optic nerve cells may die, resulting in permanent vision loss.
Optic neuropathy can cause some or all of these symptoms:
- Lights appear to be flashing or flickering
- Color sensitivity is weakened
- Pain in the eyes or the eye socket
- Tunnel vision, loss of peripheral vision
If you’ve been diagnosed with high blood pressure, have a family history of the condition, or have lifestyle risk factors like obesity, smoking, high levels of stress or advanced age, make sure you to get comprehensive eye exams regularly. Our eye doctors at Rosen Optometry Inc. in St. Louis can provide early detection and treatment of eye problems and help you safeguard your vision.
Our practice serves patients from St. Louis, Byrnes Mill, Cedar Hill, and Imperial, Missouri and surrounding communities.
Frequently Asked Questions with Dr. Lawrence Ernst
A: According to a 2019 study in the journal Hypertension, both high and low blood pressure appear to be linked with a higher risk of glaucoma—a sight-robbing eye disease that damages the optic nerve. The researchers recommended that people with high or low blood pressure schedule regular glaucoma screenings.
Q: Can vision loss from high blood pressure be reversed?
A: Although high blood pressure doesn’t directly cause vision loss, it can lead to conditions that can threaten vision, such as retinopathy. Unfortunately, vision loss from these eye diseases can’t be reversed. However, early diagnosis and treatment of eye diseases can greatly improve the chance of maintaining your vision.