Q: Why is it so important to control my blood pressure to keep my eyes healthy?
A: Hypertension or high blood pressure is a serious chronic illness affecting millions of people worldwide. Hypertension can be caused by a multitude of factors including smoking, diet, alcohol use, weight, and genetics. It becomes more common as we age. There are two types of blood vessels that transport blood throughout our bodies: arteries and veins. Arteries carry blood from the heart to and from organs like the eyes. The “pressure” that is elevated in hypertension is the pressure formed inside those arteries. Veins drain the blood from the organs back to the heart. Inside the eyes, those two blood vessels run side by side. Increases in blood pressure can cause the artery to cross over a vein and lay on top. We call these changes vascular crossing changes. In and of themselves they are benign. Because the artery is on top of the vein, the blood pressure increases to higher and higher levels and puts pressure on the vein by pressing down on it. If that pressure is high enough, it can completely close the vein, similar to putting a kink in a water hose. Blood can get into the eye, but it can’t get out. This causes blood to “back up” inside the eye causing abnormal bleeding. The abnormal fluid can cause the retina to swell, leading to disruption in vision. If it is not corrected, it can damage the retina leading to permanent vision loss. It’s also important to know that these changes don’t just occur in the eye. They occur in every organ in the body. They only difference is we can “see” what’s going in the eye relatively easily by simply looking inside. Remember, if it involves blood vessels and is happening in the eye, it’s happens elsewhere in the body as well. Regular eye exams and physicals will keep you in position to prevent this from happening.