A new study suggests that psychological stress can also cause vision loss. “There is clear evidence of a psychosomatic component to vision loss, as stress is an important cause ? not just a consequence ? of progressive vision loss resulting from diseases such as glaucoma, optic neuropathy, diabetic retinopathy, and age-related macular degeneration,” said Bernhard Sabel, lead investigator of the study.
“Continuous stress and elevated cortisol levels negatively impact the eye and brain due to autonomic nervous system (sympathetic) imbalance and vascular deregulation,” Sabel explained, emphasising that both the eye and the brain are involved in vision loss, a fact that is often overlooked by treating physicians and is not systematically documented in the medical literature.
“The behaviour and words of the treating physician can have far-reaching consequences for the prognosis of vision loss. Many patients are told that the prognosis is poor and that they should be prepared to become blind one day. Even when this is far from a certainty and full blindness almost never occurs, the ensuing fear and anxiety are a neurological and psychological double-burden with physiological consequences that often worsen the disease condition,” added Dr. Muneeb Faiq, a co-investigator on the study.
Increased intraocular pressure, endothelial dysfunction (Flammer syndrome), and inflammation are some of the consequences of stress causing further damage.
The investigators advise that stress reduction and relaxation techniques (e.g., meditation, autogenic training, stress management training, and psychotherapy to learn to cope) should be recommended, not only as complementary to traditional treatments of vision loss but possibly as preventive measures to reduce progression of vision loss.
Secondly, doctors should try their best to inculcate positivity and optimism while giving their patients the information to which they are entitled, especially regarding the important value of stress reduction. In this way, the vicious cycle could be interrupted.
Stress management is also pertinent to the caregivers/family members whose support and encouragement are important to maintain a stress-free state of mind, which in turn may keep the stress markers at bay.
The study has been published in the EPMA Journal.