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Chronic Conditions Can Affect Your Eye Health

​​​​​Diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol affect many aspects of health. One potential effect is often overlooked: eye health. 


Better control of blood pressure and blood sugar levels can help prevent eye health changes that may occur without warning.

Non-arteritic anterior ischemic optic neuropathy (AION) is one such condition. “This condition can be described as a stroke that affects the optic nerve of the eye,” said Neuro-ophthalmologist Adriana Kori, M.D., Marshfield Clinic Chippewa Falls and Eau Claire Centers. “When the arteries in the front of the optic nerve don’t receive enough oxygen, the optic nerve can be damaged because of the lack of blood flow. It is the second most common cause of vision loss in adults after glaucoma. Risk for incidence is higher for people with diabetes.”

Messages from the eye to the brain travel along the optic nerve, which is made up of millions of tiny nerve fibers. When the blood supply to the optic nerve is disrupted, it is similar to a disruption in cable television service between the broadcaster and your TV. The “picture” your eye is recording may appear distorted or your brain may receive no picture at all.

Symptoms of non-arteritic AION include blurred vision, a decrease in vision or sudden loss of sight sometimes upon awakening. It is not painful. Usually only one eye is affected, but a small percentage of people may have this form of optic neuropathy occur in the second eye.

“The condition is diagnosed by assessing the patient’s visual functions and examining the physical appearance of the optic nerve,” said Dr. Kori. “Patients who have suffered a sudden change in vision should see their eye doctor as soon as possible. Often, patients who have experienced this condition are referred to a physician like me, who specializes in neuro-ophthalmology, for continued follow-up care.”

More research is needed to identify possible treatments to reverse the effects of non-arteritic AION. Some permanent loss of vision usually occurs, which may include complete blindness. “About 40 percent of patients will have some improvement of vision after the neuropathy subsides,” she said.

Keeping optimal control of chronic conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol is important.

“Non-arteritic anterior ischemic optic neuropathy is a vascular disease, meaning that the blood vessels are affected,” said Dr. Kori. “Optimal control of blood pressure should not be too high or too low.”

Adopting and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can benefit your eye health. “In particular, avoid smoking,” said Dr. Kori. “Smoking increases the risk for vascular disease, and persons with vascular disease are at increased risk of a stroke or other heart event.”​