Quite often in an eye examination patients will present with complaints in their vision and how their eyes feel and admit they’re going through a stressful period. Sometimes the complaints are related to an underlying health issue, but in some cases, the culprit is stress itself. Stress can affect the eyes in many ways and the article will review some of the visual and ocular problems associated with stress.
What is stress?
First off, let’s look at the different types of stress:
- Emotional (marital, familial, etc.)
- Physical (recovering from an accident or surgery, for example)
- Exhaustion (travel, working long hours, not getting enough sleep)
- Psychological (depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues)
Regardless of the source of the stress, the effects on the visual symptoms can be the same. Some problems are related to how you see, while others are related to how your eyes feel. The list below is not exhaustive, but will cover some of the more common stress related issues:
- Dryness of the eye. A dry eye can burn, itch, and even tear excessively in response to surface drying. When under stress, your body fluid balance can shift, eating and sleeping patterns change, and as a result the eyes can become very dry and uncomfortable
- Headaches around the eyes and temples. With prolonged visual demand, especially if the vision is not perfectly corrected, can lead to temple headaches or an ache behind the eyes.
- Twitching eyelids. Twitching of one or both sets of eyelids is almost always associated with stress and lack of sleep. This nervous misfiring is a nuisance, but not a forever problem, as it resolves as stress resolves. There are other remedies your eye doctor can review with you.
- Retinal problems. Some patients under stress will have fluid retention under the macula (the very center of the retina). When this occurs, the vision will blur. This can be detected when the doctor examines your retina. In some cases, treatments are indicated, but in most cases the problem resolves on it’s own, but still requires careful monitoring.
- Hypertension. High blood pressure can be a systemic health problem linked to stress. Poorly controlled hypertension can also result in bleeding and restriction of blood flow in the retina.
If you’re undergoing a stressful time and experiencing any symptoms of blurring, eyelid twitching, dryness, or headaches, be sure to see your eye doctor. They can’t relieve you of all of your stress, but they can help with the visual and ocular side effects.