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Does Altitude Effect Glaucoma?

By: Jo Johnson - Updated: 29 Oct 2014 | comments*Discuss
Eyes Health Glaucoma Sight Blindness

Q.I have read about a higher incidence of glaucoma in the Himalayan region. Do the geographical settings, rarefied air, lack of oxygen in the elevated altitudes or the snow cover have anything to do with the high percentage of afflicted patients?

(Dr Sunayana Sarkar Dasgupta, 21 September 2008)


This is a complicated question as there are so many factors involved in altitude and travel and the effects on the eye.Living or travelling to areas of high altitude can affect health in a number of ways and most of the time this does depend on the persons general health and how much they have prepared for their journey.

The part of your query that mentions the Himalayas and glaucoma is interesting and something that will be researched further. It can only be assumed that if the incidence is so high, this may be due to the high level of population and also because of the existing eye care in the region and the financial situation of those living there. Many of these residents do not have access or the funds to care for their eyes as often as we might so they are at risk of developing conditions that UK residents will have diagnosed and treated following early intervention. As glaucoma can be treated fairly easily if diagnosed early enough many UK residents will not go on to suffer the long term consequences unlike those who do not have access to regular eye tests and expert advice.

Snow blindness, sunstroke, altitude sickness and decreased oxygen levels in the body can all occur and how the person manages and recovers from these incidences is largely dependent on their own body.Recent studies by ophthalmic experts tested the effects of altitude in glaucoma patients and didn’t find any clinical changes or risks though there were some significant recordings but none that affected the eyes and visual ability.Travelling by air may pose a risk to some patients especially those who have had recent retinal surgery as the technique used often means a gas bubble is inserted in the eye which remains in situ for a few weeks. For other patients with glaucoma however there does not seem to be any reason why they can’t travel by air as long as they have consulted their specialist or GP and they have deemed the person safe to travel.

This is certainly an interesting question and one that will need a lot of in depth research in order to prove facts as to whether long term residence in areas of high altitudes puts people at greater risk of developing eye conditions.

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