Your eyes have numerous tiny blood vessels. High blood pressure can cause eye damage by exerting too much force on these delicate structures. Left untreated, high blood pressure, or “hypertension,” can lead to many other dangerous health implications.
High blood pressure damages the small, delicate tubes that supply blood to your retinas. Because a hypertensive body strains the circulatory system and the organ systems, it’s important to monitor any long-term complications in the blood vessels and nerves.
Over time, hypertension can develop into other health complications:
- Heart attack
- Irregular heartbeat
- Kidney damage or failure
- Blood clots
- Hardening of the arteries
- Deteriorated cognitive functions
This long-term damage to the eyes’ blood vessels can lead to blocked blood flow to the retina, called “retinopathy.” The retina acts like a water funnel, catching all the light entering your pupils. This funnel receives and converts all the light signals and then transmits them to the brain via the “garden hose” of the optic nerve. So, no blood flow means you can’t collect as much “water” as you need.
Without blood flow, your body tries to repair itself by growing new blood vessels. However, without normal blood flow, these new blood vessels are less healthy or effective. Sometimes they leak or rupture, which can leave damaging scar tissue.
A leak or rupture can cause fluid to build up behind the retina, which affects its performance. This fluid buildup, called “choroidopathy,” acts like pinching the bottom end of the funnel. This “pinching” prevents the retina from effectively sending light signals to the brain.
Optic nerve damage is also possible. If your eyes can’t grow strong, stable blood vessels, this reduces blood flow in the surrounding tissues. In turn, this is what can kill nerve cells in the eyes. You might imagine it as “stepping on the garden hose.”
During our licensed eye doctors’ <<comprehensive yearly eye exam>>, they use a variety of methods to evaluate your overall eye health:
- Visual acuity test
- Slit lamp examination
- Retinal exam with pupil dilation
What Our High Blood Pressure Eye Exam Looks For
Our optometrists cover numerous health factors during a hypertensive eye exam:
- Narrowness of blood vessels
- Any fluid leaking from blood vessels
- Thickening of blood vessel walls
- Swelling of the macula and optic nerve
- Blood in the eyes’ normally clear vitreous humor
The dilation process is not painful. We administer drops to the eyes, and the drops take 15 to 30 minutes to open the pupils. Then, our eye doctors perform a thorough examination of the retina and optic nerve. Side effects include sensitivity to light and blurred vision. These side effects may last three to four hours.
Hypertension Treatment Options
Before taking further steps, it’s important to first lower high blood pressure. This reduces strain on the blood vessels, the retina and the optic nerve.
Cataract surgery is the only real way to treat this progressive eye disease. Fortunately, cataract surgery is a safe, painless procedure. Your eye doctor replaces the degraded, cloudy lenses with artificial lenses.
Why Is a Hypertensive Retinopathy Exam So Important?
Eye and vision problems don’t always have obvious symptoms or signs, but a licensed optometrist can easily diagnose them. By detecting eye and vision problems early, we can provide preventive treatment options and — in many cases — restore or prevent vision loss.