Certain gym sessions can carry the risk of “catastrophic” eye injuries – the risk of blindness.
Weight training offers a myriad of health benefits, but lifting weights that are too heavy comes with risks. Among the most widely discussed are damage to the joints and muscle tissue. Some studies, however, have also identified risks to the eyes. By causing a sudden increase in venous pressure, exercises such as weight lifting can lead to retinal detachment.
Retinal detachment is broadly defined as a serious eye disease that can lead to permanent loss of vision.
Bill McKenna, founder of Cognomovement, explained that a medical emergency involves the retina, the thin layer of tissue that lines the back of the eye.
This part of the eye helps process visual information by converting light entering the eye into an electrical signal.
In a retinal detachment, the retina “separates from the layer of blood vessels that supply it with oxygen and nutrients,” McKenna explained.
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“This separation can lead to vision loss or blindness if not treated quickly.”
The link between retinal detachment and heavy lifting was highlighted in studies as early as 2000.
The study, published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology, was one of the first to establish a link between the condition and sports in men.
These results were recently confirmed in a study of 264 people published in the Journal of the Egyptian Public Health Association.
The study found that heavy lifting in the workplace was also associated with a risk of retinal detachment and that the duration of lifting had a significant effect on damage.
Earlier research published in Neurology Research showed that this form of weightlifting can cause significant pressure in the arteries.
One journal report states: “Catastrophic brain injuries such as stroke, cerebral hemorrhage, […] retinal hemorrhage and retinal detachment have been associated with heavy lifting.”
While several studies have supported this link, other lifestyle factors are more likely to cause retinal damage.
Mr. McKenna states that other factors associated with retinal detachment include myopia, eye trauma, and certain medical conditions.
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Obesity is another common cause of serious vision-threatening retinal diseases because it weakens the tiny blood vessels inside the eye.
This prevents them from supplying oxygen and other key nutrients to the eye area and promotes retinal detachment.
“To prevent retinal detachment, it is important to have regular eye exams, especially if you have risk factors such as high myopia or a family history of retinal detachment,” McKenna explained.
“It is also important to protect the eyes from injury, for example by wearing safety goggles during activities that may pose a risk of eye injury.
“If you’re experiencing any visual changes or symptoms such as flies or flashes of light, it’s important to see an optometrist as soon as possible, as this could be a sign of a retinal detachment.”
The National Health Service recommends that anyone experiencing the following symptoms call 111:
- Dots or lines (flies) that suddenly appear in front of your vision or suddenly increase in number
- Flashes of light in your vision
- A dark “curtain” or shadow that crosses your field of vision.
- Vision that suddenly becomes blurred.
Although heavy lifting may be an important risk factor for retinal detachment, the mechanisms require further study in the general population.
However, these studies make one thing clear: it is important to take proper precautions when doing weightlifting.
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