Like so many important parts of the human body, the optic nerve is a fragile thing. The nerve that relays signals from the eye to the brain is integral to our sense of sight, but damage to the optic nerve can permanently reduce our vision. Glaucoma, the progressive damage to the optic nerve, is one of the leading causes of blindness and one of the conditions ophthalmologists are most concerned with preventing, identifying, and treating.
Elevated fluid pressure within the eye, better known as intraocular pressure, is the most common cause of optic nerve damage. In this closer look at how to reduce intraocular pressure, we’ll give you a refresher on what to tell patients they can do before medical or surgical intervention becomes necessary.
Limit Caffeine Intake
For many patients, advice to cut out coffee can be hard to swallow. Caffeine constricts the blood vessels in our body and, in turn, can raise the pressure of fluid within the eyes. A cup of coffee can raise intraocular pressure by as much as two mmHg (millimeters of mercury) in an hour. If IOP readings are trending upward, patients may want to switch to decaf before the optic nerve incurs damage.
Feeling depressurized after a good workout isn’t just due to endorphins. Moderate cardiovascular exercise can lower intraocular pressure in several ways. Not only is physical activity necessary to keep the body functioning as it should, but using workouts to blow off some steam can reduce stress and lower intraocular pressure.
Keep the Head Elevated at Night
Lying perfectly supine can cause pressure to build within the eyes. Keeping the head elevated at night is a useful safeguard against elevated IOP. Piling up the pillows to keep the head up to 20 degrees off the rest of the bed may lower IOP through the night.
When Intervention Is Necessary
In some cases, your tonometer (which is among the most useful ophthalmic supplies) will indicate that intraocular pressure is so high that mere lifestyle changes will be insufficient to reduce intraocular pressure. Patients should know that the first approach to remedy this is often a prescription for eye drops, which commonly use beta-blockers or prostaglandins to reduce pressure in the eye. Carbonic anhydrase inhibitors supplement these drops in advanced cases, but patients may bristle at the adverse side effects. Finally, laser surgery can open up blocked channels that lead to elevated pressure and optic nerve damage.