Even our eyes suffer: Impending loss of vision due to too much stress?

Can psychological stress lead to vision loss?

The health consequences of high stress levels are extremely far-reaching. Many people are well aware of the possible connection with complaints such as headaches, digestive problems or back pain, but the effects of stress go much further. In a recent study, scientists have also shown a connection with the loss of vision.

The fact that stress can cause eyesight to deteriorate is a surprising connection. So far, it was only known that the loss of eyesight sometimes causes considerable stress in those affected. Now the research team led by Professor Dr. Bernhard Sabel, director of the Institute for Medical Psychology at the University of Magdeburg, points out that stress in turn has a direct impact on eyesight. The patients may therefore fall into a vicious circle of decreasing eyesight, increasing stress, further deterioration in eyesight and a renewed increase in stress levels.

Psychosomatic component of vision loss

For their study, the scientists evaluated the research results of hundreds of existing studies and clinical reports on the relationship between stress and eye diseases. "There is clear evidence of a psychosomatic component of vision loss, because stress is an important cause - and not just a consequence - of progressive vision loss as a result of diseases such as glaucoma and optic neuropathy", the study leader Prof. Sabel summarizes the results. The study results were published in the specialist magazine "EPMA Journal"

Eye and brain involved in vision loss

According to the expert, "continuous stress and long-term increased cortisol levels can have a negative impact on the eye and the brain, since the autonomic nervous system is unbalanced, the blood vessels are dysregulated and the intraocular pressure increases." This means that both the eye and the brain are involved in vision loss . This fact is often not considered by the treating physicians and has not been systematically documented in the medical literature.

Effects on clinical practice

Although many sufferers suspect that psychological stress is related to their vision loss, the relationship between stress, vision loss and vision restoration has so far been insufficiently examined, the study authors explain. The current study has now shown a clear connection. "The effects of this finding on clinical practice are significant," said the Magdeburg University Hospital's report on the study results. For example, the study authors recommend discussing treatments for stress relief when talking to a doctor-patient. Some case reports in the current study would have shown how stress relief can help restore vision.

Doctors' behavior as a trigger for stress

Furthermore, the treating physicians should be aware of the fact that their behavior and their words can have far-reaching consequences for the prognosis of the loss of vision, since they have a direct influence on the stress perception of those affected, the experts explain. Many sufferers are told that their prognosis is poor and they should prepare to go blind one day. "Even if this is far from certain and complete blindness almost never occurs, the resulting fear and anxiety create a neurological and psychological double burden with physiological consequences, which often worsen the disease state," emphasizes co-author Dr. Muneeb Faiq, lecturer at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (New Delhi) and the New York University School of Medicine.

Break the vicious cycle of stress and progressive vision loss

The researchers cite, for example, increased intraocular pressure, endothelial dysfunction (Flammer syndrome) and inflammation as possible effects of the stress, whereby these complaints can in each case lead to further impairment of the eyesight or damage to the eye. Prof. Sabel has therefore developed a holistic treatment approach that combines stress management, patient education and techniques for restoring eyesight. Psychological counseling is also provided to break the vicious cycle of stress and progressive vision loss.

Combination of different treatment approaches

The experts explain that additional therapies such as brain stimulation, relaxation reaction, vision restoration, fear management and social support counteract the stress and induce a relaxation reaction by rebalancing the vegetative system by reducing the sympathetic and increasing the parasympathetic activity. At the same time, measures are being taken to increase the blood circulation in the eye and thus open the window for the restoration of vision, the Magdeburg University Hospital continues.

Holistic approach to eye diseases

The scientists recommend stress reduction and relaxation techniques such as meditation, autogenic training, stress management training, psychotherapy not only as a supplement to traditional treatments for vision loss, but also as a potential preventive measure against the progression of vision loss, according to the university hospital. According to the experts, this holistic approach in the clinical management of eye diseases could be used significantly more.

Stress management for caregivers and family members

In addition, “Doctors should do their best to convey positive attitudes and optimism, and to give their patients the information they are entitled to, particularly with regard to the importance of stress reduction,” the scientists emphasize. In the course of the treatment, stress management is also relevant for caregivers and family members, whose support and encouragement contribute to a stress-free state. A holistic approach to treatment can break the vicious cycle of stress and progressive blindness.

Further studies required

Professor Sabel concludes that stress reduction should be a supplementary treatment goal, since the holistic supplementation of ophthalmological treatments, such as with electrostimulation and relaxation procedures, opens up new opportunities to improve visual performance in diseases such as glaucoma or optic nerve damage . "Further clinical studies are to be carried out to confirm the causal role of stress in various diseases with low eyesight and to evaluate various anti-stress therapies to prevent progression and improve eyesight as the basis of psychosomatic ophthalmology," emphasize Prof Sabel and colleagues. (fp)

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