When you’re faced with the news that you have a medical condition, whether it’s glaucoma or something else, it’s natural to want to do something to reduce the impact or improve your outlook. One of the most common questions on our forum and at support groups is about lifestyle changes that might help your glaucoma.
The best treatment for your glaucoma will be prescribed by a medical professional. But there is also some evidence that changing our diet, the kind of exercise we take or even how we lie in bed might influence our eye pressure (also called intraocular pressure or IOP). We know glaucoma is made worse by high pressure in the eye or a reduced flow of blood to the optic nerve, so anything we do that decreases eye pressure or blood pressure may help.
Too much caffeine can raise the pressure in your eye. Coffee drinkers risk increasing their eye pressures if they drink five or more strong cups each day. Drink coffee in moderation.
Drinking small amounts of alcohol may lower eye pressure, but excessive drinking can damage the optic nerve as well as having many other negative effects on health.
There is no strong evidence about general diet or dietary supplements and glaucoma. Nothing has been identified that will definitely improve your glaucoma, although omega oils (from fish or seeds) have been found to be helpful for general eye health.
Ginkgo biloba extract is a herbal remedy that may improve blood flow, including to the optic nerve. However it can interfere with prescribed medication so it’s important to seek advice from your GP if you’re thinking about taking it. And anyone taking Ginkgo biloba extract should stop taking it before having surgery because it reduces the ability of the blood to clot.
Being active is great for general health, so having glaucoma should not stop you from getting daily exercise. But there are a few specific activities that people living with glaucoma should be cautious about.
Yoga is generally safe, but moves that involve the head being lower than the heart for an extended period of time – like headstands or the downward dog position – can increase eye pressure and should be avoided. Research shows any position where the heart is higher than the eyes causes eye pressure to double, though it returns to normal in around five minutes.
Other things that can temporarily raise eye pressure include lifting heavy weights, playing wind instruments, wearing a tight necktie or using swimming goggles. If you go swimming, it’s best to wear larger goggles, because smaller ones press on the orbit of the eye which increases eye pressure. It is even more important to wear larger swimming goggles if you have had eye surgery, especially a trabeculectomy as smaller goggles may press on the bleb. There is no proof that any of these worsen glaucoma.
There is no evidence that smoking itself increases the chances of damage to eyes through glaucoma, but older smokers do have a higher risk of developing increased IOP compared to non-smokers.
If you have dry eye disease, smoking will cause the eyes to sting and feel scratchy, making them water and feel more uncomfortable.
Some eye conditions (for example obstruction of retinal vessels, maculopathy and cataracts) are more common in smokers and occur at an earlier age than in non-smokers.
Getting a good night’s sleep sometimes feels like something out of our control. But taking steps to ensure you’re getting enough sleep is important to maintain good health generally. Sleeping with your head propped up on a pillow reduces eye pressure but burying your face in a pillow may not be so good. Try to sleep on your back and make sure your head and neck is supported by your pillow.
People with glaucoma can usually fly on an airplane without any problems. But always make sure that you keep your eye drops in your hand luggage, in case you need them during the flight.
As with everything in life the key is ‘moderation’. What’s good for general health is also good for glaucoma patients: a balanced diet, regular exercise, not smoking and not being overweight. Above all, there is no substitute for conventional treatments, because – unlike alternative or complementary therapies – these have been proven to work. Keep up with the drops and take your consultant’s advice on what treatments you need.