High blood pressure, or hypertension, is known to affect about 75 million people in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Left untreated, high blood pressure can cause problems with your heart, kidneys, and other organs. This condition can also affect your eyes and visual health.
Check out some of the conditions that can arise with your eyes and visual health if you have high blood pressure.
Hypertensive retinopathy is the medical term used to describe what happens when high blood pressure affects the small blood vessels that are situated in the retinal area in the back of the eye. Most people who develop hypertensive retinopathy will not recognize symptoms right off because the changes in vision can be minimal initially.
Some people who experience a sudden spike in their blood pressure may experience symptoms immediately. Hypertensive retinopathy is diagnosed through a routine eye exam using an ophthalmoscope, which allows the optometrist to get a good view of the back of the eyeball. The doctor will be checking for:
- Narrowed, constricted blood vessels around the retina
- Cotton wool spots on the retina
- Macular swelling
- Optic nerve swelling
- Signs of bleeding in the back of the eyeball
With prolonged, untreated high blood pressure, vision problems are the most prevalent symptom. You may experience things like blurry vision in one or both eyes or severe headaches. Some of the symptoms may subside with proper blood pressure management unless permanent damage has been done.
Choroidopathy is a condition that involves a collection of fluid that gets trapped just under the retina. Because the retina's responsibility is to sense light, the collection of fluid here can cause major visual disturbances. You may have issues with things like focusing properly, floaters in your vision, or your vision seeming somewhat distorted if you have choroidopathy.
A subconjunctival hemorrhage is a broken blood vessel in the eye. The problem will show up in the conjunctiva, which is the clear surface of the eye. When small blood vessels burst under the conjunctiva, the leaking blood cannot be absorbed, so the blood will get caught just under the conjunctiva and show up as a bloody spot on your eye's surface.
High blood pressure can also lead to complete vision loss in severe cases. Some damage done to the retina and optic nerve can be irreversible and can cause some degree of visual impairment. The most likely cause of vision loss is if an individual's blood pressure gets so high that it causes them to have a stroke. Roughly one-third of stroke patients experience vision loss.
A stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is limited, so oxygen deficits can damage parts of the brain that interact with the optic nerve to process images. In these cases, the vision loss may be temporary, but is often permanent. If vision is regained, it will happen within the first few months after the stroke occurs.
Subconjunctival hemorrhages can have several underlying causes, and they are usually not a major concern because the blood will naturally dissipate on its own over the course of time and you should not experience changes in vision. What is concerning is that high blood pressure can cause these hemorrhages to occur when there is too much pressure on those tiny blood vessels.
Manage your high blood pressure so that you reduce your risks of visual health problems. Work with your doctor and optometrist if you do have high blood pressure to keep tabs on your condition. Reach out to us at the Vision Care Center if you need an appointment for a comprehensive eye exam.