Eye Problems from Weightlifting

Man Lifting Weights
A man takes a break from lifting. (Image: Mike Watson Images/moodboard/Getty Images)

Regular weight lifting exercises may lead to an increase in the risk for eyesight related issues such as glaucoma and eye floaters. Lifting heavy weights, particularly when holding your breath, creates a temporary increase in eye pressure that could damage your eyes over time, according to a study conducted by Geraldo Magela Vieira and other Brazilian scientists and reported in "Archives of Opthamology" in September 2006.

Cause

While aerobic exercise such as running and cycling usually decreases intraocular pressure, lifting weights increases pressure on your eye in ways similar to what happens when you cough or vomit. During weightlifting, air is forced into a closed windpipe, causing pressure to increase in your chest area. In Vierira's study, conducted with colleagues at the Institute of Specialized Ophthalmology and UNIPLAC School of Medicine in Brazil, intraocular pressure was measured among 30 males aged 18 to 40 while they did weightlifting exercises. The pressure in the right eye was measured when bench press was performed while holding the breath and the same was measured in the left eye of the individual when breathing was normal. Pressure increased in 90 percent of the participants when they held their breaths and in 18 percent of participants who breathed normally while lifting weights.

Glaucoma and Eye Floaters

Glaucoma is an eye disease that can cause complete or partial blindness without any warning. This lack of warning makes it imperative that regular gymgoers who train with free weights use caution. You may notice nothing unusual about your eyesight before glaucoma causes vision loss. In fact, those who already suffer from the early stages of glaucoma may not even know that the process has started. Eye floaters are spots or specks that you sometimes see in your eye. These appear as cobwebs or dark shadowy shapes.These floating spots are basically cellular debris that appear and disappear on their own and, in most cases, are not a cause of worry. But sometimes they can indicate retinal tear.

Prevention

Isokinetic and aerobic exercises can reduce intraocular pressure in the eye considerably. Aerobic exercises have also been known to help in increasing the flow of blood pressure to the eye. If you can ensure that you do exercises that increase the pulse rate by about 25 percent, you can be sure that the pressure in the eye is being reduced. People who indulge in moderate to heavy exercises for a period of three months can significantly decrease pressure in their eyes.

Treatment

Glaucoma can be treated with surgery or with drugs and eye drops containing beta blockers, prostaglandin analogues, alpha-adrenergic agonists and carbonic anhydrase inhibitors. Persons who suffer from or are at risk of glaucoma should avoid caffeine Regular coffee drinkers proved more likely to experience increased eye pressure than those who drank decaffeinated coffee in a study conducted by R. Avisar and colleagues at the department of ophthalmology at Israel's Rabin Medical Center. Regular coffee drinkers showed an increase of about 3 mm Hg in eye pressure as against the other group, according to a June 2002 report in the "The Annals of Pharmacotherapy." Acupuncture has also been reported as an effective treatment for glaucoma.

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