Getting Hyper Under Pressure

A clear fluid called aqueous humor exerts pressure on the outer wall of the eye. This pressure is what the eye uses to maintain a spherical shape. Ocular hypertension is the term for higher than normal pressure inside the eye. If not carefully watched, ocular hypertension can lead to glaucoma, a potentially vision-threatening disease.

We’ve got a suspect

Intraocular eye pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). The majority of individuals with healthy eyes have a pressure ranging from 10 to 21 mm Hg. When this number creeps up above 21 mm Hg, ocular hypertension occurs. An important distinction for ocular hypertension is that the optic nerve looks normal and no signs of glaucoma are present.

Patients with elevated pressure are known as glaucoma “suspect”. Anyone with unusual visual fields or abnormal optic nerve features can also be given this title. While the eye remains healthy, an eye doctor should perform regular checks to ensure glaucoma doesn’t set in.

Glaucoma’s the problem

Glaucoma is an eye disease generally stemming from an elevated ocular pressure. This tension pushes on the optic nerve, damaging the pathway sending images to the brain for processing. When these nerves die, blind spots appear in vision where those fibers once were. Patients notice deterioration along the edges of sight first. If left untreated, glaucoma can work inward until all vision is gone.

Risky business

Individuals of advanced age are more likely to develop ocular hypertension. Other risk factors include the following: a family history of glaucoma, African Americans and Hispanics, extreme nearsightedness, eye trauma or surgery, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

An asymptomatic system

Ocular hypertension has no symptoms, and patients have no way of knowing elevated pressures exist. Physicians use tools called tonometers to check pressure levels in both eyes. These devices catch ocular hypertension before the condition turns into something worse. In most cases, the progression to glaucoma is asymptomatic as well. Damage to the visual passageway happens without patients even knowing.

There’s never a guarantee

Ocular hypertension is a major contributor to glaucoma. That said, having higher pressure does not always lead to the disease. The strength of the optic nerve is often the deciding factor. If caught early, an ophthalmologist may be able to bring ocular tension back to normal before any damage takes place.

Doctors to the rescue

While ocular hypertension is not a disease, doctors need to make sure the condition does not evolve into glaucoma. Glaucoma is incurable and can only be mitigated to prevent eye damage. Any vision loss from the disease is permanent; there is no way to reverse blindness at this time. Patients with ocular hypertension should see an ophthalmologist regularly to keep glaucoma at bay.