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Can exam stress cause glaucoma?

A new study has indicated a link between the prolonged stress caused by taking multiple exams and a small increase in intraocular pressure (IOP).

Image: Rows of students sitting at tables, doing an exam.

The research, published in the academic journal Applied Ergonomics, measured IOP in 33 university students both in and out of exam conditions in order to investigate IOP as a marker for stress.

The results showed higher IOP values in the during the examination session than out of it, and higher before than after the exam.

In the report, the authors refer to research linking a raise in IOP to a higher risk for both the development and the progression of glaucoma.

Glaucoma is an eye condition where your optic nerve is damaged by the pressure of the fluid inside your eye.

Your eye needs a certain amount of pressure to keep the eyeball healthy and in the right shape. But if the pressure is too high, it can cause your optic nerve to become damaged at the point where it leaves your eye.

Dr Penelope Stanford, Ophthalmic Nurse and Lecturer at the University of Manchester’s School of Nursing told NB: “It is well known that a number of factors may cause a rise in intraocular pressure."

“While there is some research suggesting exam stress may influence a rise in intraocular pressure, there does not appear to be enough evidence to show a link between exam stress, optic disc damage or an increased risk of glaucoma.”

While a solid link between stress and glaucoma is yet to be proved, some people are more at risk than other groups. This risk can be related to ethnicity, family history, age or potentially having diabetes or having used steroid eye drops for a long time.

Dr Stanford, said: “If you are at all worried about exam stress you should always speak to your teacher or lecturer, GP, optometrist or ophthalmologist for support and advice on this matter.”

Most types of glaucoma have no symptoms, so a regular eye test is the only way to know you have the condition. Treatment with drops can often prevent glaucoma causing sight loss.

Further information 

If you know somebody concerned about glaucoma or want to find out more about the condition, check out RNIB’s Understanding Glaucoma guide.