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Is Stress Affecting Your Eyes?


Is Stress Affecting Your Eye Health?
OSU Researchers Seek Answers in a New AMD Study

There is a wealth of research which has shown that stress and depression are related to health-related concerns including wound healing and response to vaccines. Unfortunately, there has not been much research to investigate the effects on eye health.

At Ohio State, Dr. Bradley Dougherty (Optometry), Dr. Frederick Davidorf (Ophthalmology), Dr. Karla Zadnick (Optometry), and Dr. Janice Kiecolt-Glaser (Psychiatry and Psychology) are investigating the effects of stress and depression on the body’s inflammatory response. They hope to understand how these factors affect the visual outcomes of treatment for patients with wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

"Stress and depression have been shown to increase inflammation in the body and wet AMD is an inflammatory disease," said Dr. Bradley Dougherty, "so there’s reason to believe that they may lead to worse outcomes in wet AMD."

AMD is characterized by degenerative damage to the light-sensitive tissue on the inside back of the eye responsible for central vision (macula). In dry AMD, vision loss is caused by a breakdown or thinning of cells in the macula. Wet AMD is caused by the growth of abnormal blood vessels which leak and cause swelling in the macula. The treatment for wet AMD is an ocular injection of a substance that prevents new blood vessel growth.

"What we’re doing," said Dr. Dougherty, "is investigating whether or not we can determine who does well in these treatments and who’s more likely to be at risk for doing poorly. Ultimately, we hope to be able to do something to improve all patient outcomes."

Sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, the study hopes to enroll 150 AMD patients. Each patient will complete three visits over a year. They will have their visual acuity tested, have blood drawn, and complete surveys to determine their individual levels of stress and depression. Researchers will also enroll a number of non-AMD patients to complete identical surveys.

The surveys cover a host of topics. Participants are asked to rate their quality of life, if they feel socially supported, how their vision impairment impacts various aspects of their life, and more.

Each AMD participant’s blood will be tested for complement factor H gene (a genetic risk factor for macular degeneration) and C-reactive protein (a marker for how much inflammation there is in the body). C-reactive protein has been shown to be related to stress and depression and is also a risk factor for macular degeneration.

At the end of the study, researchers will measure the change in vision from the start of treatment and will try to determine who has done well and who has not done as well and if there is a correlation to stress and depression.

"We are looking at systemic factors which are likely to be involved in AMD," said Dr. Davidorf. "Does the patient’s mental status affect response to treatment? Are there immune factors at play in this disease? Identifying the patient’s mental and immune status as he or she deals with the possible loss of vision is the focus of this study. We hope our findings will lead to additional therapies and better outcomes."