• Kim Rasmussen

Could stress be affecting your vision?

Updated: May 6

It can be all too easy to dismiss problematic eyesight as ‘just one of those things.’ And it is true that, depending on the condition, heredity and age might play their part. But so too can lifestyle and social factors such as nutrition, activity levels, and stress.

Thanks to initiatives such as Stress Awareness Month, which takes place in April each year, the potential impact of stress on areas such as the cardiovascular system or mental health are becoming more widely known. Perhaps less well known is the effect that stress can have on eyesight.

So how can stress affect vision? The Stress Management Society [1] comments that: “stress is primarily a physical response.” When we are stressed our bodies go into ‘fight or flight' mode, in the process releasing hormones such as adrenaline, cortisol and noradrenaline.

Whilst all of these are present in our bodies in daily life, prolonged excess levels can lead to lasting damage. For example, high levels of cortisol have been shown to be one causal factor of high pressure in the eye, leading to “autonomous nervous system (sympathetic) imbalance and vascular dysregulation.”[2] A 2018 study concluded that stress, therefore “may also be one of the major causes of visual system diseases such as glaucoma and optic neuropathy.” This conclusion has subsequently been supported by other studies including one from 2019 [3] which concluded that levels of emotional stress and anxiety should be taken into account when looking after glaucoma patients.

High levels of adrenaline too can have a long term effect on vision. Adrenaline released due to stress causes pupils to dilate. On a long term basis, this can lead to a number of sight-related problems including light sensitivity and blurred or tunnel vision.

Aside from the hormone effects of stress, other stress-related factors can also negatively impact vision. Being unable to sleep properly can not only lead to ‘tired eyes’ in the short term, over a longer period it could set up permanent damage leading to glaucoma. Not eating properly can also impact long term vision with a lack of proper nutrients leading to eye damage.

Then there are factors such as spending too long at a keyboard or working in poor light in response to work stresses. Practices such as these could lead to myopia or other long term eye problems.

However you look at it, stress and long term eye health don’t go well together. Therefore, this April, it could be well worth taking advantage of Stress Awareness Month to identify and start practising some stress reduction techniques. They might just help to preserve your sight as well.

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