Birth control pills are widely used in the United States, but now new research is linking the usage of the birth control pills to an increased risk of glaucoma. Birth control pills are used as a pregnancy prevention measure and work by putting hormones (estrogen and progestin) into the woman’s system. These hormones keep the eggs from leaving the ovaries and make it harder for the sperm to get to the eggs by making the cervical mucus thicker.
There have always been side effects when it comes to the pill, but a recent study found that women who had taken the birth control pill for a period of time of at least three years to be at greater risk for developing glaucoma. According to Dr. Shan Lin, who is the director of the glaucoma service at the University of California, San Francisco medical school and a professor of clinical ophthalmology at the school, the risk for women who have used birth control pills of any kind for three years or longer have a five percent chance of developing glaucoma.
The risk for the general population is about 2.5 percent. The research was conducted by researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, Duke University School of Medicine and the Third Affiliated Hospital of Nanchang University.
Dangers of Glaucoma
Glaucoma is a complicated disease in which a build up of high pressure within the eye causes optic nerve damage. Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness. In the United States, over 2.2 million people have glaucoma.
Glaucoma can be open angle or closed angle. Open angle glaucoma is the result of the drainage canal being slowly blocked over time. It is often found during routine eye exams. It is the more common of the two types. Closed angle glaucoma (also known as acute glaucoma) is more sudden in the onset. It initially results in blurred vision and sharp pain in the eye.
Risk Factors for Developing Glaucoma
There are risk factors for glaucoma besides prolonged birth control pill usage. Other risk factors include being older, being African American, and having a history of retinopathy. Another study completed by Dr. Louis Pasquale, an associate professor of ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School found that women who go into menopause early and women who have their ovaries removed are also at greater risk of developing glaucoma.
Dr. Pasquale’s study also found that women who go through menopause later or take postmenopausal hormones were at lower risk.
Birth Control and Glaucoma
Dr. Shan Lin’s study that showed the risk of birth control pills was based on examination data of 3,406 women who were 40 years old or older. These women took part in the 2005-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Dr. Shan Lin points out those women who have taken birth control pills for three years or longer should be screened for glaucoma and followed closely by an ophthalmologist if they have other existing risk factors.
Women should not stop taking birth control pills for this increased risk alone without consulting their doctor. If women want to seek out different forms of birth control which do not contain hormones, they should consult with their doctor about the risks and side effects of other birth control alternatives such as intrauterine devices, sponges, condoms, diaphragm, cervical cap or other options.
Reduce Your Chances of Developing Glaucoma
There are also steps that everyone can take to lower their overall risk of developing glaucoma. One of the most important steps is to lower the pressure in your eyes naturally by lowering your insulin level. This can be done by avoiding foods that are full of sugar or carbohydrates. This includes foods such as breads, sweet, starchy foods and soda.
The next step to lowering your risk of developing glaucoma is exercise. By exercising, you are not only lowering your blood pressure, you can also lower the pressure in your eyes.
The third step in reducing your risk of glaucoma is to reduce your stress. When you reduce your stress level, you lower your blood pressure. It has also been found that when you lower your stress level, you also lower the pressure within your eyes. There are many ways to try to reduce stress. Exercise can help reduce stress, as can yoga, deep breathing, and listening to calming music.
For many people, they go through a little trial and error before they find the way to reduce their stress the best way for themselves. Keep experimenting until you find something that works well for you, it could even be playing with your kids.
The final step in reducing your risk is eating a healthy diet. Your diet should be rich in the necessary herbs, vitamins, and minerals known to strengthen eyes and vision. You want to try adding foods that are rich in vitamin A, C and E, along with cutting out foods that are high in fats, carbohydrates and sugars. This is good for not only your eye health but your overall health.
If you struggle with getting adequate amounts of the essential vitamins and minerals on a regular basis, consider adding a supplement to your diet. There are some that are tailored specifically for eye health. For instance, the Ocu-Plus Formula can help you get the necessary nutrients for your eyes without drastically changing your diet.
Even though birth control pills can increase your risk for glaucoma, you should discuss any worries and alternative methods with your doctor. Even if you choose to continue using birth control pills, remember that you can take steps to lower your risk of developing glaucoma through natural and healthy means.