Ocular hypertension means that the pressure inside your eye is higher than normal, but you have no damage to the optic nerve. You’ll want to see your provider and follow suggestions about medications and regular eye exams.
Ocular hypertension refers to high intraocular pressure (IOP), or high pressure inside your eye. Fluid drainage failure causes the high pressure.
Your eyes constantly make a clear fluid called aqueous humor that flows in front of your eye and then drains out. Normally, an equal amount goes in and out. If the fluid doesn’t leave your eye when it should, your IOP increases.
Normal eye pressure is 11 to 21 millimeters of mercury (written as mmHg). This is the same type of measurement used in taking your blood pressure. If your ocular pressure is higher than 21 mmHg in one or both eyes at two or more visits to your eye care specialist, then you may have ocular hypertension.
Bilateral ocular hypertension happens in both eyes. Unilateral ocular hypertension means that pressure is high in only one eye.
Ocular hypertension can cause glaucoma. Glaucoma happens when high IOP damages the optic nerve. These nerves in both eyes connect directly to your brain and transmit electrical signals that your brain turns into images.
If you have glaucoma that’s not treated, you can lose your vision.
An estimated 3 million to 6 million people in the U.S. have ocular hypertension, which puts them at risk for developing glaucoma.
A risk factor is some particular thing that increases the chance that you’ll develop a disease. Some risk factors can’t be changed, like your age, your ethnicity or having another type of medical condition. Risk factors for ocular hypertension, and for developing glaucoma, include having other conditions, such as:
Other risk factors for ocular hypertension include:
The tricky thing about ocular hypertension is that it generally doesn’t cause symptoms. This is why regular eye exams are so important. Your healthcare provider can tell if the pressure inside your eye is high when they do their testing.
In some cases, you may feel eye pain with movement of your eyes or touching your eyes.
Even though some eye problems may create headaches or dizziness, this doesn’t usually happen with ocular hypertension.
Causes of ocular hypertension include making too much fluid (aqueous humor) or having a blockage or other problem with your eye’s drainage system, called the anterior chamber angle. The drainage angle is near the front of your eye, located between the iris and the cornea.
If the drainage angle is blocked, it causes fluid and pressure to build up. Causes of this build-up can include:
Recent studies have indicated that stress can increase intraocular hypertension.
Your eye doctor will begin by giving you a thorough eye exam. If they suspect you might have ocular hypertension, they may also do these tests:
Sometimes, you and your provider may decide to monitor the situation closely at scheduled eye appointments. Your provider may prescribe eye drops to reduce the pressure in your eyes. They’ll also continue to monitor your intraocular pressure at regular eye exam appointments.
Medications to lower pressure in your eyes include:
As with all medications, these products may have unwanted side effects, like redness or irritation of the eyes. In some cases, if you don’t respond to the prescribed medications, you might need surgery to reduce the pressure in your eyes. One type of procedure is laser trabeculoplasty, which uses a laser to open blockages.
Most of the risk factors for ocular hypertension aren’t things you can modify. However, you can do your best to keep your eyes healthy. These suggestions include tips for your overall health and your eye health.
It’s important to make and keep appointments for regular eye examinations. Finding problems early is best.
Don’t smoke. Smoking is bad for your eyes. Talk to your provider about getting help to quit smoking.
You can protect your eyes by:
You can help protect your eyes by keeping yourself healthy. Tips for this include:
You can’t cure ocular hypertension, but your provider can treat and monitor the condition.
People who have ocular hypertension may be at a higher risk for developing glaucoma, but not everyone who has ocular hypertension will automatically develop glaucoma.
You should see your provider as often as they recommend. If you have unusual eye discomfort or pain, or discomfort that doesn’t go away, you should always contact your eye care provider. You should also contact them if you have new or worsening symptoms that involve your eyes.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
It’s important for everyone to have regular eye exams, but this is very true if you have ocular hypertension. It’s also important to use the medications that your provider prescribes for you in the way that your provider recommends. With proper care, you can stop ocular hypertension from progressing to optic nerve damage and vision loss.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 12/19/2022.
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