Air Pollution Linked to Glaucoma

Over the past decade we have published numerous overviews of studies linking the chemicals commonly present in air pollution to increased risk for serious health conditions including heart disease, stroke, obesity, diabetes, Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s Disease and respiratory conditions. Now there is one more serious health condition to add to the list: the debilitating eye condition known as glaucoma.*

*Glaucoma is the leading global cause of irreversible blindness and affects over 60 million people worldwide. It most commonly results from a build-up of pressure from fluid in the eye, causing damage to the optic nerve that connects the eye to the brain. Glaucoma is a neurodegenerative disease.

Overview of study findings

Living in a more polluted area is associated with a greater likelihood of having glaucoma, a debilitating eye condition that can cause blindness.  People in neighborhoods with higher amounts of fine particulate matter pollution were at least 6% more likely to report having glaucoma than those in the least-polluted areas.

The research team found that people in the most-polluted 25% of areas were at least 6% more likely to report having glaucoma than those in the least-polluted quartile, and they were also significantly more likely to have a thinner retina, one of the changes typical of glaucoma progression. Eye pressure was not associated with air pollution, which the researchers say suggests that air pollution may affect glaucoma risk through a different mechanism…

This study adds to previous evidence that people in urban areas are 50% more likely to have glaucoma than those in rural areas, suggesting now that air pollution may be a key contributor to that pattern.

“Air pollution may be contributing to glaucoma due to the constriction of blood vessels, which ties into air pollution’s links to an increased risk of heart problems. Another possibility is that particulates may have a direct toxic effect damaging the nervous system and contributing to inflammation.”

-Dr. Sharon Chua, primary researcher, UCL Institute of Ophthalmology and Moorfields Eye Hospital


Journal Reference:  Sharon Y. L. Chua, Anthony P. Khawaja, James Morgan, Nicholas Strouthidis, Charles Reisman, Andrew D. Dick, Peng T. Khaw, Praveen J. Patel, Paul J. Foster. The Relationship Between Ambient Atmospheric Fine Particulate Matter (PM2.5) and Glaucoma in a Large Community Cohort. Investigative Opthalmology & Visual Science, 2019; 60 (14): 4915 DOI: 10.1167/iovs.19-28346