How Parkinson’s Disease Affects Eye Health

May 11, 2021

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative brain disorder. It causes the brain cells responsible for making the neurotransmitter dopamine to stop working, and eventually die. Neurotransmitters like dopamine are chemicals that are necessary to send signals to the brain. They’re essential for quick, well-coordinated movement. When dopamine-making cells die in significant enough quantities, people start exhibiting the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

You have probably heard of Parkinson’s disease as a disorder affecting older people. In New Zealand, around 1% of people aged over 60 are diagnosed with Parkinson’s, and most diagnoses happen over the age of 60. Earlier onset can happen, too. Parkinson’s is a degenerative disease so it can take years for symptoms to become pronounced.

At present, no medications are available that can slow the progression of the disease. However, medications can be given to treat the symptoms, which include slow movement, shaking or trembling of hands or limbs at rest, and coordination and balance problems.

How Does Parkinson’s Disease Affect Vision?

Not all patients with Parkinson’s disease will experience altered vision or eyesight problems but some will. These problems can affect vision from a neurological perspective and the condition of the eyes and eye area.

As Parkinson’s disease affects movement, it can affect the movement of the eyes. This can be most noticeable, and problematic, when watching fast-moving action. It can also affect everyday activities like reading. Eyes may also have trouble tracking together or converging when watching something that is coming towards them.

Many people associate Parkinson’s disease with involuntary shaking or twitching, particularly of the hands and limbs. This can affect the eyes and eyelids, too, and manifest as involuntary eye closing, blinking, and twitching. If the opposite problem occurs and people aren’t able to blink their eyes as much as they should, dry eyes can also occur.

Patients with Parkinson’s disease may also experience a decline in their visuo-spatial orientation and have difficulty differentiating between shades of colours. Some people, particularly those who have been suffering from Parkinson’s for a long time, may experience hallucinations or see flickering lights.

Other eyesight problems may be caused by the medication given to treat the various symptoms of the disease, particularly double vision caused by anticholinergic drugs that treat the nervous system.

What can be done to remedy Parkinson’s-related vision and eye problems?

Doctors and ophthalmologists are in the best position to treat many vision problems related to Parkinson’s disease but it’s important to continue to have regular check-ups with your optometrist. We can help you manage dry eyes, which can be a result of slower blink rates with Parkinson’s. New Systane ULTRA Multi-dose Preservative-free drops are especially effective because the lack of preservatives potentially means less irritation to the eye. We can also help correct refractive vision problems and oculomotor issues (those related to the motion of the eye).

Even if you’re diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, you may experience some eye problems unrelated to the disease. As you age, your vision can deteriorate in different ways. Something that you might assume is related to Parkinson’s (such as a refractive error) may not be at all. It may be easily treated, or require a different kind of remedy. So, visit your optometrist regardless of other health diagnoses.

Worried about your Parkinson’s disease-related eye health? Book an appointment at Greenlane Penrose Optometrist today.

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