Why Routine Eye Examinations Are Vital For People With Hypertension

Hypertension (high blood pressure) isn't just something that affects old or obese people. Nearly half of Americans over 20 suffer from hypertension.

If you are one of the millions of people in this country who lives with high blood pressure, it is vitally important to keep a close eye on your overall health. Hypertension can damage many different parts of your body, and your eyes can be especially vulnerable.

How Does Hypertension Affect Your Eyes?

Hypertension can cause or exacerbate a number of different eye illnesses and can lead to severe vision loss, including blindness. Here are just a few of the damaging eye conditions that are linked to high blood pressure:

Hypertensive Retinopathy

The retina is one of the most important parts of your eye and is responsible for capturing light as it enters your eyes. It is filled with tiny blood vessels, which keep the retina supplied with oxygen and nutrients. Because these blood vessels are so small, they have very thin and fragile walls.

If you have hypertension, highly pressurized blood can damage these blood vessels as it passes through them. Damaged blood vessels cannot supply the retina with oxygen, and the living tissues of the retina will start to die. Severely damaged blood vessels can also start to leak blood into the retina, causing even more damage.

This condition is called hypertensive retinopathy and can have serious effects on your vision. If you have untreated hypertensive retinopathy, gradual damage to your retinas will worsen your vision over time. Severe hypertensive retinopathy can cause blindness.

Retinal Artery Occlusion

The small blood vessels that supply blood to your retinas are connected to larger blood vessels known as arteries. If one of these arteries becomes partially or completely blocked by a blood clot, the smaller blood vessels will quickly lose their blood supply. This is called retinal artery occlusion.

Hypertension significantly increases the risk of blood clots in all of the blood vessels in your body, including the arteries connected to your retinas. If hypertension causes a clot in one of your retinal arteries, the sudden loss of blood can cause rapid damage to large portions of the retina. This is a medical emergency that can lead to a sudden, severe loss of vision.

Optic Nerve Damage

When light enters your retinas, it is converted into electrical signals, which are sent to your brain via the optic nerves. The brain interprets these signals, allowing you to see. Like the retinas, your optic nerves need to be constantly supplied with blood.

Hypertension can cause damage and blockages in the blood vessels connected to your optic nerves. Optic nerve damage can cause serious vision problems, and because nerves do not heal like other tissues, this damage is likely to be permanent.

How Can Routine Eye Examinations Prevent Eye Conditions Caused By Hypertension?

Everybody should undergo a routine eye examination at least once every few years, but if you have high blood pressure, you should have your eyes professionally examined at least once a year.

Optometrists can use a range of sophisticated tools and imaging equipment to examine every part of your eye, completely non-invasively. If your retinas, optic nerves, or any other parts of your eyes are showing signs of damage caused by hypertension, they will be able to detect it. 

The more often you go for examinations, the more likely you are to catch hypertension-related damage in its early stages, before it causes any serious vision loss. Your optometrist can there share their findings with your doctor, cardiologist, and other care providers, helping you get the treatment you need to lower your blood pressure and save your vision.

For more information on adult routine eye examinations, contact a professional near you.