Things that aren’t risk factors for open angle glaucoma

Men and women get open angle glaucoma at about the same rate. To determine such things, it is important that research studies look at the whole population by random sampling, as is done in polls taken around election time, where the group surveyed is representative. Otherwise, persons who are more likely to go to the doctor will be found to have a disease more often and it will be incorrectly assumed that they have it more. Women tend to go to doctors in the United States more than men, and women live longer. So doctors who do such studies adjust their estimates by doing random sampling, and by taking account of how many persons at a certain age have the disease. This is called age-specific rates or prevalence.

Some of the most surprising findings about contributing factors to open angle glaucoma have come from recent studies on diabetes mellitus. For years, textbooks taught that diabetes made glaucoma more likely. To be sure, diabetes is a major cause of vision loss, especially when proper diet and exercise recommendations are not followed. But, contrary to the prevailing ideas, more and more studies show that having diabetes does not necessarily make you more likely to get open angle glaucoma. Nonetheless, diabetics must have yearly detailed eye exams for the complications that can blind them other than glaucoma.

Just like diabetes, all the experts formerly said that having high blood pressure was associated with more glaucoma. But, more large studies now show no relation at all. In part, it depends on how the study is done. Studies in which glaucoma is defined by having only high eye pressure tend to find that hypertension IS related to glaucoma. The more modern open angle glaucoma definition recognizes that eye pressure can be high or low in untreated open angle glaucoma. When this correct definition is used, there is an association between hypertension and open angle glaucoma only in the very elderly. There is clearly some link between the level of blood pressure and the level of eye pressure, as the Glaucoma Center of Excellence investigators showed in a large study of healthy adults. They go up or down together to some degree because the systems that control both pressures are similar parts of our unconscious nervous system. Get stressed and both blood and eye pressures tend to rise. Again, it would be foolish to allow yourself to have uncontrolled blood pressure, since that raises the risk of heart attack, stroke and kidney disease.

From a glaucoma viewpoint, there are no dietary or drinking habits that increase the risk of the disease. Drinking two standard bottles of water very quickly does raise eye pressure by about one-third, so we recommend you drink slowly to avoid this. Eating a diet with lots of fruits and vegetables is a good health habit. Many studies show that drinking alcohol and caffeine in moderation does not make glaucoma more likely. No nutriceuticals (herbs and the like) have been shown in any decent study to improve the risk of glaucoma (see section Are there treatments other than lowering eye pressure?). That doesn’t mean that you can eat, drink, and be merry, since if you do, you won’t live long enough to get glaucoma.

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