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You’ve probably heard that stress is bad for your health, but what many people don’t realize is that stress can cause vision loss, too. While stress-related vision loss is often temporary, many people with common, underlying eye and health conditions aren’t always so lucky, which is why stress management is vital.

According to Key-Whitman Eye Center’s Plano eye doctor Faisal Haq, “Generically, stress is bad for us in many ways. It can cause high blood pressure, increase cortisol (the ‘stress hormone’) levels and elevate sugar levels in the blood, which are direct consequences of stress on the body. Then there are the indirect consequences of stress. There’s no doubt that high blood pressure, high cortisol levels and elevated blood sugars can exacerbate certain eye diseases and conditions, which may lead to permanent vision loss for some patients.”

How stress plays a role in vision loss for people with high blood pressure, glaucoma and diabetes

No. 1: High blood pressure increases the risk of vision loss due to vascular disease.

Stress can raise blood pressure, which can increase the incidence of vascular disease. This includes vascular disease of the eye, a condition that can cause damage to the optic nerve and the retina, resulting in vision loss. Vascular disease can also lead to deterioration of the macula located in the back of the retina, which can exacerbate macular degeneration, a progressive, blinding disease.

No. 2: High cortisol levels increase the risk of vision loss due to glaucoma.

Stress increases cortisol levels, which is linked to high pressures in the eye. Increased eye pressure worsens glaucoma, a disease that can damage the optic nerve and even cause blindness.

No. 3: High blood sugar levels increase the risk of vision loss due to diabetic retinopathy.

Stress can raise blood sugar levels and make managing blood sugar more problematic for diabetics. Poorly controlled blood sugars contribute to diabetic retinopathy, a blinding condition where blood vessels in the back of the eye become weakened and leaky. Diabetic retinopathy may result in permanent vision loss if it isn’t diagnosed and treated early on.

Vision loss can also be a symptom of disease. Learn more in this recent post: Stroke, Heart Attack and Vision Loss: How Eye Doctors Save Eyes and Lives 

Reduce your risk for vision loss – get stress in check NOW

If you’re feeling stressed – especially if you have one of the underlying conditions discussed above – it’s important to take proactive steps to manage stress right away.

“When I talk with patients who are highly stressed and at risk for vision loss, one of my first pieces of advice is to schedule time with their primary care physician to work out a stress management plan. It’s so important to find ways to minimize stress and find balance in life,” Dr. Haq says.

To find a better work-life balance, Dr. Haq also encourages patients to think about the things they enjoy doing – reading, traveling, cooking, sports, etc. – and to dedicate more time to do those things.

As he explains, “Personally, I enjoy playing tennis or golf to reduce stress, but everybody is different. That’s why it’s important to work closely with your doctor to develop a customized plan for you. Depending on your needs, you may benefit from exercise, dietary changes, massage therapy, acupuncture, breathing exercises, counseling and other solutions. Most important, don’t delay. The sooner you get stress under control, the sooner you’ll reduce your risk of vision loss and other health issues.”

You can also find some helpful stress management tips from reputable organizations online. A few resources to consider include:

American Heart Association: 10 Ways to Fight Stress with Healthy Habits

American Psychological Association: 5 Tips to Help Manage Stress

American Diabetes Association: Reducing Mental Stress

Worried that stress could be affecting your vision? See your eye doctor

Many blinding eye diseases and conditions progress without any symptoms, which means, once you notice your vision is failing, it may be too late. This is the case with vascular eye diseases, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy. Fortunately, eye doctors like Dr. Haq have the technology to screen for these conditions, even in their early stages.

“While it’s important to get stress under control, early diagnosis and treatment of eye disease are essential if you want to ward off permanent vision loss. If you’re seeing a doctor for a chronic health condition, you should be seeing your eye doctor regularly, too. We can monitor your eye health and prescribe treatments to help preserve your vision for the long-term,” says Dr. Haq.

If you live in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and would like to schedule an eye exam, we’d love to hear from you. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Haq in our Plano office or another eye doctor in our Dallas, North Dallas, Arlington, South Arlington, Mesquite or Plano locations, give us a call at (972) 905-9128, or feel free to set up an appointment online.

ABOUT DR. HAQ:

Dr. Faisal Haq received his undergraduate degree from Boston University and earned his medical degree from the Boston University School of Medicine. He completed his ophthalmology residency at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Dr. Haq has been tending to the needs of Key-Whitman patients since 2006 and was recently recognized as a “Best Doctor” in Collin County by D Magazine in2011 and 2013-2017. Dr. Haq lives in Plano with his wife and two children. He loves to travel and has been on several surgical mission trips to Belize to perform charity cataract surgery.