Hormone Therapy May Lower Glaucoma Risk

Hormone Therapy May Lower Glaucoma Risk

There may be another upside for women who are taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to cope with menopause: It might help preserve eyesight by reducing the risk of glaucoma.

After years of controversy, many experts now agree that certain women can safely use HRT for a few years to help manage menopausal symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats or vaginal dryness. Recently, researchers at the University of Michigan and Harvard decided to take a closer look at how the hormones might affect eye health.

Is HRT safe? See expert answers here.

Eyeing the Effects of Estrogen
Researchers analyzed insurance data from more than 150,000 women over age 50. They found that women who took estrogen-only HRT to relieve menopausal symptoms had a lower risk of developing open-angle glaucoma, the most common type of glaucoma. Plus, for each month that a woman took estrogen, her risk fell further. After four years, the risk was reduced about 19 percent. The study was published in the journal JAMA Ophthalmology.

The authors of this study aren’t suggesting women should start HRT just to protect their vision, but they’re hopeful these findings may lead to hormone-based medications to treat glaucoma. They add there’s no way to know yet if such treatments might help men prevent glaucoma.

What Is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is one of leading causes of vision loss and blindness in the United States. It’s actually a group of diseases that can progressively damage your eye’s optic nerve and retina. It occurs when the normal fluid pressure inside the eye gets too high. The authors of the HRT study said it’s possible estrogen may protect against glaucoma by lowering eye pressure or protecting certain cells in the eye, but add that more study is necessary.

Tunnel Vision: The Signs of Glaucoma
Glaucoma can hit without showing any symptoms. Initially, vision isn’t affected. As the disease progresses, your peripheral vision gradually worsens. In more advanced cases, vision narrows so much it can feel like you’re looking through a tunnel. Over time, glaucoma can lead to complete blindness. Some forms of glaucoma are hereditary, so if you have a family history of the disease, be sure to get regular check-ups.

Who is at Risk for Glaucoma?

Seeing the Light: Glaucoma Treatment Options
Glaucoma is usually controlled with eyedrops that must be used regularly. There are several different types of medications that can help keep you from losing your sight completely. You might have to tolerate some side effects, such as blurry vision or eye irritation. (See an in-depth list from the American Academy of Opthlamology here.) Laser therapy or eye surgery may be required if drops do not control your glaucoma.

All of these treatments can only stop the progression of glaucoma; they can’t reverse the damage or restore vision that’s already been lost. That’s why early detection and treatment is so important to prevent blindness.

What to Expect at your Eye Exam

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Medically reviewed in September 2019.

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