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Tips for Managing Ocular Hypertension and Easing Eye Pressure

Written by Andrew Le, MD

UpdatedFebruary 29, 2024

Ocular hypertension is a condition characterized by elevated IOP (IOP). According to Yale Medicine, between 4% to 10% of Americans aged 40 and older are affected by this condition, which can occur in one or both eyes.

Managing ocular hypertension is vital for preventing its progression to glaucoma, a major cause of vision loss. Effective management strategies are essential to ease eye pressure and maintain overall eye health, highlighting the importance of regular monitoring and intervention in ocular hypertension cases.

This article will explore ocular hypertension and identify its causes, symptoms, and risk factors. We’ll also talk about the importance of eye examinations and how to manage ocular hypertension.

🔑 Key Takeaways

  • Ocular hypertension happens when the IOP in the eye is higher than normal. It can develop due to various causes and risks and is not reversible.
  • Including fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and omega-3-rich fish in a balanced diet while limiting high-carb, fatty, sugary, and salty foods aids in managing ocular hypertension. These help maintain blood pressure and normal glucose concentrations, risk factors for ocular hypertension.
  • Proper hydration is key to supporting eye functions and controlling IOP. It ensures that the fluid pressure inside the eyes remains stable, promoting proper eye shape and function.
  • Increasing physical activity by engaging in exercises like walking, yoga, and swimming improves blood circulation, which helps lower blood pressure. This, in turn, can aid in regulating IOP.
  • Reducing caffeine intake, especially from coffee, is beneficial as consuming large amounts of it may increase IOP.
  • Managing emotional and psychological stress is important in controlling IOP levels, as these can elevate eye pressure levels.
  • Sticking to prescribed eye medications is essential for the effective management and control of ocular hypertension to maintain a regular eye IOP range.
  • Sleeping with the head elevated at 30 degrees can help reduce IOP, a simple yet effective approach for those with this condition.
  • Taking regular breaks from screens, particularly smartphones, helps reduce eye strain and manage eye pressure, as prolonged use increases IOP.
  • Undergoing routine eye examinations is vital for the early detection of ocular hypertension, allowing for timely treatment.
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What Is Ocular Hypertension?

Ocular hypertension is when the IOP, the pressure within the eye, is higher than normal. Normal eye pressure ranges between 11 to 21 mmHg (millimeters of mercury).

IOP is critical for maintaining the eye's shape and function. It’s also one of the factors that can lead to optic nerve damage and other vision impairments when it exceeds this range.

Ocular hypertension is diagnosed when measurements exceed 21 mmHg on two different occasions. It doesn't immediately affect vision or cause glaucoma. It increases the risk of primary open-angle glaucoma.

When IOP rises above the normal threshold, it risks the eye's health. Elevated IOP can exert undue stress on the optic nerve, the vital link transmitting visual information from the eye to the brain. Over time, this stress can lead to optic nerve damage, a primary cause of vision loss and disorders like glaucoma.

To measure this pressure, doctors use applanation tonometry, which checks how much the cornea resists being flattened. The eye's trabecular meshwork and Schlemm's canal cells can respond to high IOP by changing fluid flow, which aids in reducing the pressure to normal levels.

🩺 Health Note

High eye pressure does not always lead to glaucoma, as individuals vary in their optic nerve's tolerance to pressure. Conversely, glaucoma can occur even at normal eye pressure levels.

The threshold for what is considered 'normal' eye pressure differs for each person, but generally, a pressure above 21 mmHg is considered higher than normal.

Causes of Ocular Hypertension

Ocular hypertension occurs when there's an imbalance in the eye's fluid dynamics, specifically concerning the production and drainage of aqueous humor. The key factor contributing to this condition is often a malfunction in the eye's drainage system, located in the anterior chamber angle – the space between the iris and the cornea.

This imbalance can occur due to various reasons:

  • Drainage System Obstruction: Includes closure of the drainage angle, preventing fluid exit, and conditions where the anterior chamber is open but fails to drain efficiently.
  • Pigment Dispersion Syndrome: Tiny pigment flecks from the iris float inside the eye, blocking the trabecular meshwork, the tissue responsible for fluid drainage.
  • Pseudoexfoliation Syndrome: Microscopic protein fibers accumulate in the eye, hindering drainage.
  • Uveitis: Inflammation in the middle portion of the eye can affect fluid regulation.
  • Eye Tumors: Tumors within the eye can obstruct the fluid flow.
  • Large Cataracts: These can block the drainage routes.
  • Past Eye Injuries or Surgeries: Such events can impact the eye's fluid regulation capabilities.
  • Medications: Certain drugs, like corticosteroids, can contribute to increased eye pressure.
  • Chronic Angle-Closure: Condition where the iris blocks the trabecular meshwork, obstructing aqueous humor outflow.

These factors, individually or in combination, disrupt the normal fluid flow in the eye, leading to increased IOP and the risk of ocular hypertension.

In addition to these blockage-related issues, excessive production of aqueous humor can also lead to ocular hypertension, exacerbating the pressure imbalance.

These diverse causes highlight the complexity of ocular hypertension and the need for comprehensive evaluation and management.

Early identification of these factors is crucial in developing effective preventive strategies and managing the condition to prevent further complications like glaucoma.

Risk Factors for Ocular Hypertension

Various factors can influence the development of ocular hypertension. Key risk factors include the following:

Age-Related Changes

As we age, the eye's natural drainage system becomes less efficient, leading to an accumulation of aqueous humor and increased IOP. The trabecular meshwork at the iris-cornea angle drains aqueous humor from the eye. With age, its efficiency declines, leading to increased eye pressure.

The risk of developing ocular hypertension increases with age. According to a study, individuals over 40 are at a higher risk.

Genetic Predisposition

A family history of glaucoma or ocular hypertension significantly increases the likelihood of developing these conditions. Genetics can influence eye anatomy and the efficiency of the eye's drainage system, contributing to elevated IOP.

Ethnic Background

Ethnicity plays a significant role as a risk factor for glaucoma, with certain groups, particularly African Americans and Latinos, showing a higher prevalence due to distinct anatomical variations. These groups often have thinner corneas, contributing to their increased susceptibility.

A study indicates that people of Black or Hispanic descent not only face a higher incidence of ocular hypertension and glaucoma but also have genetic predispositions and unique eye anatomy that impact IOP.

Pre-Existing Medical Conditions

According to a study, medical conditions like high blood pressure (BP) and diabetes are associated with ocular hypertension. High BP can lead to increased eye pressure by boosting aqueous humor production through elevated blood flow in the eye's ciliary body and raising capillary pressure.

It can also reduce fluid outflow due to increased pressure in the eye's episcleral veins. When these new vessels grow on the iris, they can elevate eye pressure, potentially leading to glaucoma.

In diabetes, high sugar levels damage the retina's blood vessels and may cause abnormal new ones to form. This can impact the eye's fluid dynamics and pressure regulation.

Eye Anatomy

Individuals with certain anatomical features, such as a thinner central cornea, are more susceptible to increased eye pressure. Eye conditions like pigment dispersion syndrome, where pigment flakes off the iris and blocks the drainage system.

Having these conditions will lead to the eye’s fluid not draining out of the eyes at regular rate, which can cause a buildup that may result in increased IOP.

Also, according to a study, individuals with pseudoexfoliation syndrome (PXF), characterized by the build-up of protein flakes in the eyes, can also elevate IOP.

Long-Term Use of Steroid Medications

Prolonged use of steroids, either systemically or in the eye, is known to increase the risk of ocular hypertension, according to a study. This is because long-term use of steroids can alter the function of the trabecular meshwork (TM), the eye's drainage pathway.

This reaction leads to fewer TM cells and more deposits outside the cells, making it harder for fluid to flow out of the eye. As a result, the eye's internal pressure (IOP) increases.

Past Eye Injuries or Surgeries

After an eye injury, especially blunt trauma, the eye's structure can be damaged, leading to less fluid drainage and higher eye pressure. This pressure increase might not happen immediately and could occur years later. The likelihood of developing higher eye pressure after an injury varies, affecting 3% to 20% of cases.

Additionally, previous eye injuries or surgeries can lead to changes in the eye's anatomy or scarring. According to a study, this can impact the eye's natural drainage capability, resulting in higher IOP​​.

Signs and Symptoms of Ocular Hypertension

Ocular hypertension is often a tricky condition because it usually does not present any noticeable symptoms.

While ocular hypertension is often asymptomatic, some rare symptoms that might occur include mild eye discomfort or pain, which can be experienced particularly when moving or touching the eyes. However, unlike other eye conditions, ocular hypertension typically does not cause symptoms like headaches or dizziness​​.

Eye Examinations to Help Detect Ocular Hypertension

Regular eye exams with your ophthalmologist are vital for diagnosing ocular hypertension and assessing any potential structural damage to the eye. Since high eye pressure can exist without knowledge, these periodic check-ups play a crucial role in early detection and management of the condition.

During an eye examination, an ophthalmologist may conduct various assessments, including the following:

  • Corneal Thickness Evaluation: Assessing central corneal thickness can provide further insights into the condition.
  • Gonioscopy: Performed to check the eye’s drainage angle and assess for angle closure.
  • Optic Nerve Examination: To assess any signs of optic nerve damage.
  • Slit Lamp Examination: This test looks for signs of pigment dispersion, pseudoexfoliation, iritis, or trauma.
  • Tonometry: Test used to measure IOP.
  • Visual Acuity and Visual Fields: To check for any vision impairment.

9 Tips for Managing Ocular Hypertension

Here are some essential tips to help maintain healthy eye pressure and prevent potential complications.

1. Modification of Diet

Diet plays a significant role in managing ocular hypertension, with certain nutrients particularly beneficial for eye health. Here are some of the foods individuals with high IOP need to include in their diet:

Fruits and Vegetables

In research involving 584 African-American women, it was observed that participants who had at least three servings of fruit or fruit juice daily had a 79% lower risk of developing glaucoma compared to those who consumed fewer than one serving per day.

This is because fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants like lutein and zeaxanthin, as well as vitamins A and C. These compounds protect the eyes against oxidative stress, a factor associated with optic nerve damage and other eye tissue damage in glaucoma.

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Nuts and Seeds

These are excellent sources of vitamin E, crucial for maintaining cell health and protecting against free radical damage that can break down protective retinal tissues in the eye. They also help decrease the risk of age-related macular degeneration and cataracts​​.

Adding an ounce or a handful of certain nuts and seeds into one's diet is recommended. Some examples to consider are the following:

  • Sunflower seeds
  • Pistachios
  • Almonds
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According to a study, fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, fish like salmon, tuna, sardines, and halibut, may reduce the risk of developing eye diseases later in life. Omega-3 fatty acids may also help decrease glaucoma-related pressure in the eye, which is beneficial for managing ocular hypertension​​.

Incorporating a nutrient-rich diet is an effective strategy for controlling ocular hypertension. It's essential to understand that dietary choices are just one aspect of a holistic plan. This plan should also encompass consistent eye check-ups, physical exercise, and proper medical care to ensure overall eye health.

Drink Tea

A study found that individuals consuming at least one cup of hot tea every day were 74% less likely to develop glaucoma than those who didn't drink tea.

After knowing the types of food to take, let’s discuss the foods people with ocular hypertension should avoid:

  • High-Carbohydrate Foods: Linked to a higher risk of glaucoma, these foods can affect blood glucose levels, impacting ocular health.
  • Fatty and Sugary Foods: Often contributing to obesity and metabolic syndrome, these can indirectly increase ocular hypertension risk by affecting overall health.
  • Salt-Heavy Foods: Excessive salt intake can lead to hypertension, a known risk factor for increased IOP.

2. Stay Hydrated

Hydration is vital in maintaining overall eye health and managing ocular hypertension. Adequate water intake supports various eye functions and regulates IOP, ensuring that the fluid pressure inside the eyes remains stable. This stability is crucial for maintaining proper eye shape and function.

However, it's important to note that a significant rise in IOP may occur after rapidly drinking a high volume of water, typically between 500mL to 1L, within 15 minutes. Therefore, individuals, especially those with glaucoma, should avoid ingesting large volumes of fluid quickly.

3. Increase Physical Activity

Regular physical activity, including brisk walking, swimming, and yoga, not only benefits overall health but also plays a significant role in eye health. Engaging in activities that moderately raise your heart rate for about 20 to 30 minutes improves blood circulation and helps regulate IOP, which is key in managing ocular hypertension.

A study supports the positive effects of exercise on eye pressure. A notable decrease in IOP was found immediately after an exercise test, aligning with previous research on the impact of physical activity on IOP.

However, this reduction in IOP was temporary, returning to baseline levels within 20 minutes after completing the exercise. This transient change in IOP can be particularly significant for patients with ischemic heart disease.

These findings reinforce the importance of incorporating safe and moderate exercise routines into a holistic approach for managing ocular conditions like hypertension.

4. Drink Less Coffee

Caffeine's effect on IOP is significant, as evidenced by a study comparing the impacts of regular and decaffeinated coffee.

The study found that 60 and 90 minutes after consumption, the increase in IOP (IOP) was considerably higher in subjects who drank regular coffee than those who had decaffeinated coffee.

This elevation in IOP due to regular coffee could be clinically significant, especially for individuals with ocular hypertension.

Therefore, moderating caffeine intake is advisable, as reducing consumption of caffeinated beverages might help manage ocular hypertension more effectively. A healthy alternative is chicory coffee, which tastes like coffee without the caffeine. But drinking green tea is also a good option if you need a boost. It can ease eye pressure within 1 to 2 hours of drinking.

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5. Manage Stress

Studies indicate that heightened stress or anxiety can lead to increased IOP, a key factor in ocular hypertension and glaucoma.

A case report suggests acute emotional stress can significantly impact IOP in glaucoma patients, which highlights the need to consider emotional and social factors in glaucoma management.

Additionally, research on healthy individuals has shown that standardized stress events can elevate IOP. Given that glaucoma often coexists with anxiety disorders, it's essential to understand better and manage psychological stress.

This approach can be a vital part of a strategy to prevent or slow glaucoma progression, highlighting the importance of stress management in maintaining optimal eye health.

6. Take Medications

There is no cure for ocular hypertension, but it can be managed. Effective management of ocular hypertension often involves medication, mainly when lifestyle modifications alone are insufficient.

These medications are designed to reduce fluid production in the eye or increase drainage, thus lowering IOP. Commonly prescribed medications include the following:

  • Prostaglandins: These eye drops increase the amount of fluid leaving the eye. Examples are Latanoprost, bimatoprost, tafluprost, and travoprost.
  • Beta-blockers: These eye drops decrease fluid production in the eye. Examples are Metipranolol, Betaxolol, Carteolol, Levobunolol, and Timolol.
  • Alpha-adrenergic agonists: These medications reduce fluid output and increase fluid throughput. Drugs in this category include Apraclonidine and Brimonidine.
  • Carbonic anhydrase inhibitors: These types of medicine are also used to reduce fluid production in the eye. Examples are Dorzolamide and Brinzolamide.
  • Miotic or cholinergic agonists: These agents increase the outflow of fluid from the eyes. An example is Pilocarpine.

The choice of medication depends on various factors, including the patient's overall health, the condition's severity, and any other eye-related issues.

It's essential to adhere to the prescribed medication regimen and attend regular eye exams to monitor the effectiveness of the treatment and make adjustments as necessary​.

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7. Elevate the Head While Sleeping

Research highlights the impact of sleeping position on IOP, which is especially relevant for individuals with ocular conditions like glaucoma. The study found that sleeping with the head elevated at a 30-degree angle significantly reduced IOP compared to lying flat.

This reduction was about 20% in some cases, varying among patients. This suggests that a head-elevated sleeping position could benefit those managing ocular hypertension, providing a simple yet effective way to control eye pressure during sleep.

A study indicates that raising the head with two pillows or a 30° inclined bed backrest during sleep might aid in lowering IOP.

🎉 Fun Fact

Elevating the head while sleeping can reduce snoring, alleviate sleep apnea symptoms, relieve migraines, prevent post-nasal drip, and improve overall sleep quality. Raising your legs simultaneously can further enhance these benefits!

8. Take Breaks With Screen Time Use

Screen time, particularly on smartphones and other digital devices, can significantly affect IOP, a critical factor in ocular hypertension.

A study has shown that prolonged use of smartphones, especially in low-light conditions, leads to faster and greater increases in IOP.

To minimize this risk, taking regular breaks during screen use is recommended. Implementing practices like the 20-20-20 rule—taking a 20-second break every 20 minutes to focus on something 20 feet away—can help alleviate eye strain. Adjusting screen settings for brightness and text size also reduces eye strain.

9. Avoid Heavy Lifting and Head-Down Positions

For those with glaucoma or at high risk, avoiding exercises where the head is lower than the heart is crucial. This includes specific yoga poses, using inversion tables, and weight training exercises like decline bench presses, handstands, or headstands.

These positions can significantly increase IOP. Research reveals that such inverted positions can rapidly elevate IOP in glaucomatous and healthy eyes, with IOP typically returning to baseline within two minutes after resuming an upright posture.

While weightlifting can benefit overall health and may help lower IOP, it should be cautiously approached. It’s also best to consult a trainer for a personalized exercise routine to avoid positions or workouts that can increase eye pressure.

10. Regular Eye Exams

Regular eye examinations are crucial for the early detection and management of ocular hypertension. Eye care professionals use specialized equipment to measure IOP and assess eye health.

Timely detection through these exams allows for early intervention, which prevents glaucoma progression and other vision-threatening conditions.

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  • Checkmark Inside Circle.Low prices on all of your favorite brands like Acuvue, DAILIES, AirOptix and more
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Final Thoughts

Effectively managing ocular hypertension involves a combination of lifestyle adjustments, regular medical check-ups, and proper eye care practices. Key strategies include a nutritious diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and omega-3 fatty acids, staying hydrated, engaging in regular physical activity, and moderating caffeine intake.

Stress management, proper sleep posture, and prescribed medications are vital. Regular eye exams are crucial for early detection and ongoing monitoring of IOP.

By incorporating these practices, individuals can significantly reduce the risks associated with ocular hypertension and maintain overall eye health.

FAQs on Managing Ocular Hypertension

Is ocular hypertension the same as glaucoma?

Ocular hypertension is a precursor to glaucoma but not the same condition. It becomes glaucoma when the high IOP damages the optic nerve, leading to vision loss.

Can lifestyle changes alone manage ocular hypertension?

While lifestyle changes contribute significantly to managing ocular hypertension, they are most effective when combined with regular eye exams and adherence to prescribed medications.

What is the fastest way to bring down eye pressure?

Techniques like blinking, palming, gentle eye massages, and applying warm or cold compresses provide temporary relief. These methods improve circulation and alleviate eye strain, thereby reducing eye pressure.

Is it safe to wear contact lenses with ocular hypertension?

Wearing contact lenses is generally safe for those with ocular hypertension. However, maintaining proper lens hygiene and consulting with an eye care specialist is important to ensure eye health.

Can ocular hypertension be reversed or cured?

Ocular hypertension can be effectively managed but not cured. Consistent monitoring and treatment can prevent its progression to more serious conditions like glaucoma.