Lifestyle Factors & Glaucoma Risk

Do Weight, Smoking, and Drinking Influence Chances of Developing Glaucoma?

A 2011 study published in the Archives of Ophthalmology seeks to determine how “lifestyle-related risk factors, such as socioeconomic status, smoking, alcohol consumption, and obesity” can influence the likelihood that people will develop  open-angle glaucoma.

Nearly 4000 people were part of this nearly 10 year long study. None had glaucoma at the outset, but at the end, 2.7% had developed the eye condition.

The researchers claim that socioeconomic status, smoking, or alcohol intake were not associated with glaucoma.  They did assert that women who were obese were less likely to develop glaucoma (other studies have found the same thing).  Source:

These findings are in opposition to other studies that have linked smoking to glaucoma.  Studies do show that stress is a major factor in the development of glaucoma.

Smoking Increases Glaucoma Risk

New study shows smokers have increase risk of getting glaucoma. Specifically, inflammation and apoptosis marker levels increase with smoking in the aqueous humor and plasma samples of POAG women. Smoking could be an important additional risk factor for glaucoma progression in elderly women.

Source: Zanon-Moreno V, Garcia-Medina JJ, Zanon-Viguer V, et al. Smoking, an additional risk factor in elder women with primary open-angle glaucoma. Mol Vis 2009;15:2953-2959.

Editor’s Note: Chronic inflammation and related cell death (apoptosis) due to smoking is implicated in many chronic diseases including heart disease, diabetes, macular degeneration and cancer.  Eye disease is often related to poor circulation, chronic systemic inflammation and/or the lack of availability of nutrients.

Weightlifting Can Increase Pressure in the Eyes

Weightlifting, especially if one holds his or her breath during the exercise, may cause a temporary increase in pressure within the eyes.  Glaucoma is sometimes linked to increased pressure in the vitreous humor of the eye.

Generally, intraocular pressure generally decreases after both aerobic and anaerobic exercise. Higher intraocular pressure has been reported during the Valsalva maneuver (air is forced against a closed windpipe causing an increase of pressure in the chest). This action occurs during coughing, vomiting, playing wind instruments, as well as during some weightlifting sessions.

According to, study authors note that a certain type of glaucoma (normal-tension glaucoma) is more common in individuals who are subjected to frequent changes in eye pressure. “Prolonged weightlifting could be a potential risk factor for the development or progression of glaucoma. Intermittent intraocular pressure increases during weightlifting should be suspected in patients with normal-tension glaucoma who perform such exercises,” they conclude. “Patients with normal-tension glaucoma should be questioned as to a history of regular weightlifting.”

Heavy Computer Use & Glaucoma

Those who use computers heavily are at greater risk for glaucoma than the general public, particularly those who are short-sighted. Glaucoma is an insidious disease characterized by the decrease of peripherial vision eventually leading to severe vision loss.

A 2004 cross-sectional study in 9124 Japanese workers indicated that there was a possible association between heavy computer users and glaucomatous visual field abnormalities. In other words – people who computers heavily (ie. programmers, software engineers, gamers) could be jeopardizing their sight.

The study looked at typical daily computer use, as well as long-term computer use history. More than 500 participants (5.4%) had problems with peripheral vision. Of that group, one third were found to have glaucoma … perhaps more than a third, since some workers with peripheral vision problems didn’t receive all the testing to accurately diagnose glaucoma.

Still, it may not be necessary to quit your day job or to give up your favorite hobby.  Glaucoma can be prevented.  Changes in diet and lifestyle can reduce your risk of glaucoma and other eye diseases and improve your overall health.

Swim Goggles and Increased IOP

Australian researchers took a look at whether swimming goggles elevated intraocular pressure.  They drilled holes in to the goggles permitting special measurement using a method called applanation tonometry in which force against the cornea allows inference as to the degree of pressure inside the eye.  IOP was measured prior to putting on the swim goggles, two minutes after they’d been put on, twenty minutes later  and after their removal. The testing was done with a variety of types of swim goggles.

The researchers found that in fact, IOP did increase while swim goggles were being worn by an average of 4.5 mm Hg.  The size of the face of the goggles was also correlated to IOP – with smaller faces having higher pressures.  The study was not performed while subjects were actually swimming.

Source: “Wearing swimming goggles can elevate intraocular pressure”, Morgan, et al, Br J Ophthalmol. 2008 Sep;92(9):1218-21.

Learn more about glaucoma’s causes at our website.