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What Causes High Eye Pressure & How to Reduce It

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Senior woman being examined by a handheld tonometer.

Glaucoma is one of Canada’s most common eye diseases and is known as “the silent thief of sight” because it often has little or no symptoms early on. While age is one of the leading risk factors in developing glaucoma, high eye pressure is also a significant risk factor because of the damage it can do to the optic nerve.

Elevated eye pressure and glaucoma can be due to factors like diabetes, hypertension, high myopia, aging, eye trauma, or genetics. Addressing the underlying cause, if identifiable, is usually the initial treatment approach. If not, various medicines and surgeries are available to reduce eye pressure.

There are usually no symptoms as eye pressure increases or as glaucoma develops. This can be dangerous because it cannot typically be recovered once vision is lost. 

This is a significant reason why seeing your eye doctor for regular comprehensive eye exams is so important, especially if you have risk factors for high eye pressure or glaucoma.

What is High Eye Pressure

High eye pressure is known clinically as ocular hypertension (OHTN). It can happen in one or both eyes. While OHTN and glaucoma are correlated, using the terms interchangeably is inaccurate. OHTN can lead to glaucoma if the pressure damages the optic nerve, but it also doesn’t guarantee that you’ll develop glaucoma.

What Causes High Eye Pressure?

Ultimately OHTN is caused by a buildup of aqueous humor—the fluid in the front of your eye—if it’s not draining properly. The risk factors can include:

  • Age
  • Family history of glaucoma or OHTN
  • Trauma or previous eye surgeries
  • Other medical conditions like high blood pressure, heart conditions, or diabetes
  • Other eye-related conditions like high myopia, inflammation, tumours, or retinal detachment

Symptoms of High Eye Pressure

Unfortunately, you may not notice if you’re developing OHTN because it rarely presents with symptoms. There may be instances where you feel pain when your eyes move or when you touch them. A comprehensive eye exam where your optometrist tests your eye pressure is the most reliable way of knowing whether you have OHTN.

This is why it’s important to follow the Canadian Association of Optometrists’ recommendations to see your eye doctor for a comprehensive exam every 1 to 2 years based on age. Your eye doctor may also recommend more frequent eye exams based on your overall eye health. For example, if you have risk factors for OHTN, glaucoma, or other eye disease, they may recommend you see them more often.

Complications from High Eye Pressure

Glaucoma is the primary complication that can arise from OHTN as it’s one of the main risk factors for developing the condition other than age. If OHTN damages the eye’s optic nerve, you may begin losing vision in 1 or both eyes. This vision loss cannot be recovered.

Reducing High Eye Pressure

Depending on how high your eye pressure is and what’s causing it will typically determine what your eye doctor recommends for treatment. The goal is to prevent OHTN from damaging your optic nerve.

Treatments can include:

  • Medication: Topical medications like eye drops are commonly used to help reduce eye pressure.
  • Laser Treatment: A trabeculoplasty is a laser treatment that helps drain the fluid in the eye to reduce OHTN. It may be an option if your eyes don’t respond to medication.
  • Surgery: Several surgical options may be available if medication and laser therapy aren’t successful.
A senior female patient is examined with a digital tonometer.

Things You Can Do to Prevent High Eye Pressure

While there’s no way that you can 100% prevent OHTN or glaucoma because you can’t stop aging or change your family history, there are some things you can do to lessen your risk of developing these things:

  • See your optometrist for all recommended eye exams to catch OHTN early and hopefully prevent it from causing glaucoma.
  • Quit smoking: Smoking increases your risk of glaucoma along with many other eye-related and general health concerns.
  • Wear sunglasses and other protective eyewear during sports or work.
  • Stay physically active according to your abilities and your doctor’s recommendations.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Manage your stress levels.

Discuss Your Eye Health with Your Optometrist

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to keeping our eyes in perfect health. But being proactive and taking the necessary steps to lessen your risk of eye diseases and conditions is so important because we only get one pair of eyes.Give us a call at Aurora Eye Care to schedule an appointment if you’re having any troubling symptoms, or it’s just time for your next comprehensive eye exam.

Written by Dr. Kyla Hunter

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