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Why You Should Take High Eye Pressure Problems Seriously

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Anytime an individual visits an eye doctor, one of the key areas that will be checked is the intraocular eye pressure (IOP) and whether high eye pressure problems exist. IOP is a measure of the amount of pressure on the interior of the eye, which is made up of various gels and fluids designed to help the eyes stay nourished. However, sometimes the eye's drainage system gets backed up, fluid accumulates, and a condition known as glaucoma can develop. Glaucoma can lead to blindness due to elevated IOP which pushes on and damages the optic nerve. 

It is critical for eye care professionals to clearly distinguish between glaucoma and ocular hypertension. While ocular hypertension is a risk factor for developing glaucoma, it doesn't mean the individual has glaucoma. 

As you can see, high eye pressure problems shouldn't be taken lightly and can potentially indicate more serious problems underneath. This connection between ocular hypertension and glaucoma underscores the importance of having regular eye exams. Let's take a closer look at high eye pressure.

What Is Classified as High Eye Pressure? 

High eye pressure problems are linked to elevated intraocular pressure (IOP) inside one or both eyes. If the IOP is greater than 22 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) it is higher than normal. This is then referred to as ocular hypertension, unless the patient shows signs of glaucoma after a visual field test or there is a problem with the optic nerve. Ocular hypertension is common and affects an estimated 3-6 million people in the United States. The problem is it puts them at risk of serious eye problems such as glaucoma and permanent vision loss.

What Causes High Eye Pressure?

It is thought that the primary cause of ocular hypertension is the overproduction of eye fluid. The eye produces a clear fluid (aqueous humor) in the ciliary body behind the iris. Too much fluid increases the pressure inside the eye. Ocular hypertension also occurs when the eye is unable to drain the fluid properly through a structure called the trabecular meshwork. Other common causes include: 

  • Eye trauma: Eye injury or trauma can block or interfere with the drainage system in the eye and lead to excessive pressure on the eye. It can take months or years before the blockage occurs.
  • Medications: The side effects of drugs, such as steroid medicines used to treat asthma, can result in an imbalance of eye fluid production and drainage.
  • Certain eye conditions: Diabetes, cardiac hypertension, corneal arcus, and high myopia are all associated with higher-than-normal eye pressure.

Coincidentally, factors linked to high eye pressure are practically the same as the causes of glaucoma.

Symptoms and Complications of High Eye Pressure

Unfortunately, there are no signs of high eye pressure, which is why it is important to have your eyes checked regularly by your eye doctor. He or she will examine your eyes and check for fluid production, drainage imbalances, optic nerve damage, corneal thickness, signs of glaucoma, and other abnormalities associated with ocular hypertension. Some of the most common complications caused by high eye pressure include:

  • Vision problems: Problems include trouble seeing in the dark to blurred vision. These changes usually occur gradually.
  • Optic nerve damage: Pressure that is too high or continuously exerts pressure in the eye's interior can damage the delicate optic nerve.
  • Glaucoma: The biggest risk of untreated elevated intraocular pressure is glaucoma, an eye disease that can lead to significant vision loss or blindness. Primary open-angle glaucoma is more frequently caused by untreated high eye pressure.
  • Retinal detachment: People with glaucoma are at risk of retinal detachment. A detached retina is a serious problem where the retina pulls away from its normal position in the back of the eye.

Who Is at Risk for Ocular Hypertension?

People over the age of 40 and African Americans as well as Hispanics have a greater risk of ocular hypertension and other eye pressure problems. Those at risk also include people with:

  • Uncontrolled high blood pressure or diabetes
  • Severe nearsightedness
  • Family history of glaucoma
  • Bleeding at the optic nerve head
  • Thin central cornea
  • Eye injury or surgeries
  • Decreased blood pressure to the eye

High Eye Pressure Treatment Options

People with elevated IOP are referred to as glaucoma suspects, because of the connection between elevated eye pressure and glaucoma. If you're already diagnosed with ocular hypertension, your eye care professional may prescribe eye drops to reduce eye pressure. 

Some eye doctors prefer to skip the medications due to the side effects and simply continue to monitor your IOP. Either way, your doctor may initiate treatment only if eye drops are ineffective or you show other signs of developing glaucoma. Treatment can include eye drops, oral medications, or surgery to treat eye pressure.

Types of Glaucoma Surgery for Elevated Eye Pressure

Glaucoma surgery is done to increase drainage of the aqueous humor from the eye, lower the IOP, and minimize the risk of optic nerve damage and vision loss. Three common types of surgery are:

  • Minimally-invasive glaucoma surgery (MIGS): Helps reduce or eliminate the need for glaucoma medications. The tiny incisions made during MIGS procedures minimizes eye trauma compared to conventional glaucoma surgery.
  • Shunt and trabecular meshwork surgery: The procedures are performed to create new drainage channels for the aqueous humor. Despite being more invasive than MIGS, shunt and trabecular meshwork surgery can be more effective in lowering eye pressure and reducing the need for glaucoma medications.
  • Laser glaucoma surgery: Usually recommended when eye pressure is very high or there is optic nerve damage. Selective laser trabeculoplasty (SLT) is commonly performed on patients with open-angle glaucoma and in cases where glaucoma medication is not the best option.

Contact Us!

At Keeler, we have been the leading team of optometric and ophthalmic equipment manufacturers for over 100 years. When it comes to measuring IOP, we offer a full line of contact and non-contact tonometers. We've consistently worked with eye care professionals to design and create equipment that helps them better diagnose and treat a variety of eye conditions. Contact us at 800-523-5620 for any questions you may have or to receive more information. 

About the Author Eugene VanArsdale

Eugene is the Director of Marketing Communications at Keeler Instruments. He has been with Keeler since 1982 and is co-holder of two patents for the company. Eugene has a true passion for the eye care industry and has dedicated himself to understanding the ins and outs of the optometric and ophthalmic equipment market.