High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a condition that we commonly associate with heart health. According to studies, high blood pressure often goes undetected for years due to a lack of consistent medical care. Annual physicals with your general health practitioner are as important to your eyes as they are to the rest of your body. Here, we discuss the way that high blood pressure can degrade eye health.
Hypertension in the Eye
High blood pressure means that there is an excessive amount of force being placed on the walls of blood vessels when the heart beats. This increase, over time, causes damage to the various vessels in the body. The blood vessels in the eyes are particularly small and delicate. Without showing symptoms such as pain, these tiny vessels can suffer damage, which we refer to as hypertensive retinopathy.
Ideally, the effects of high blood pressure on the eyes are discovered during a routine annual eye exam. During this assessment, the eye doctor observes the various structures of the eye using an ophthalmoscope, a lighted instrument that illuminates the back of the eye. Signs of hypertensive retinopathy may include visible narrowing of the blood vessels around the retina, macular edema (swelling in the center of the retina), swelling around the optic nerve, and tiny hemorrhages in the eye.
Obvious symptoms of hypertensive retinopathy do not typically occur until the latter stages of disease. By this time, it is possible that vision has been irreparably affected. Symptoms of retinal damage include double vision, cloudy vision, and a sudden loss of vision.
Treatment for Hypertensive Retinopathy
There is currently no treatment available for latter-stage hypertensive retinopathy. Eye doctors grade the stage of retinopathy based on the severity of symptoms and, once the optic nerve has been damaged by hypertension, lost vision may not be recovered. For this reason, it is vital that patients with high blood pressure obtain annual dilated eye exams and annual wellness checkups with their primary care provider.
The best way to treat hypertensive retinopathy is to reduce blood pressure by using lifestyle strategies and medical therapies as needed. In many cases, a reduction in blood pressure leads to an improvement in the condition of the blood vessels in the eye.
Get a detailed view of your eye and eye health. Call our Mililani office at 808.625.5577 to schedule a dilated eye exam with Dr. Omphroy.