Tunnel Vision: VIAGRA® Users Should Weigh the Ups with Potential Downsides of ED Drugs

Posted By Key-Whitman Eye Center || 29-Oct-2014

A new study suggests there may be a link between sildenafil, the active ingredient in VIAGRA, and irreversible vision loss. Researchers at the University of South Wales School of Optometry and Vision Science found that sildenafil inhibited an enzyme which helps transmit light signals from the retina to the brain in mice. The research also suggests that patients who carry a common genetic mutation for the eye disease retinitis pigmentosa could face the highest risk for vision loss.

So why should I care, I’m a man not a mouse, right?

Dr. Amanda Hoelscher explains why patients should tell their eye doctor if they use VIAGRA or any other medications.

“We want male patients to be aware that there may be additional potential risks to their vision by taking erectile dysfunction (ED) drugs. That’s why it’s so important that men are straightforward with their eye doctor regarding any and all medications they use and medical conditions they are experiencing,” says Key-Whitman Eye Center's optometrist Amanda Hoelscher, O.D.

“What we’ve known for some time is that according to the Journal of Sexual Medicine, 3 to 11 percent of men taking VIAGRA will suffer temporary vision disturbances,” Dr. Hoelscher says. These temporary symptoms include:

  • Blurring of vision.
  • Light sensitivity.
  • Color vision changes.

“What we’re just learning now, is that there may be a possible link for a risk of permanent vision loss due to ED drugs. The researchers in this new study gave a single dose of sildenafil to both normal mice and mice that carry a single copy of the mutant gene for retinitis pigmentosa. Mice without the gene suffered temporary vision issues, but mice with the genetic mutation experienced extended vision problems and also showed early signs of cell death in the eyes,” explains Dr. Hoelscher.

What is retinitis pigmentosa and how could it harm my vision?

“Retinitis pigmentosa is a genetic disease that leads to progressive vision loss. It predominately affects the rods in the eyes, which are dispersed peripherally in the retina. Patients don’t actually go blind, but they are left with irreversible tunnel vision,” says Dr. Hoelscher. Night blindness is one of the early markers for the disease.

Dr. Hoelscher discusses the significance of the new study and prevalence of VIAGRA use in the U.S.

Dr. Hoelscher notes that “While additional research is necessary, these study findings are worth discussing with patients during an eye health exam, because one in 50 people are likely carriers of this recessive gene. However, most carriers of the gene don’t realize it, because their vision is normal.”

“According to a 2011 article in The New York Times, VIAGRA had been prescribed 35 million times, and based on a study conducted by Express Scripts, 20 percent of men over the age of 45 have used the medication. If further research confirms the link between sildenafil and humans who carry a single copy of the mutant gene for retinitis pigmentosa (as it did in the mouse study), a significant number of men could be affected,” says Dr. Hoelscher.

ED drug users should speak openly with their eye doctors about potential vision risks.

A vast number of medications can cause temporary and/or permanent vision problems, not just ED drugs. “The better informed your eye doctor is regarding your medication and medical condition details, the better equipped he or she will be to provide the best vision care,” Dr. Hoelscher says.

As it pertains to this recent study, Dr. Hoelscher also suggests “VIAGRA users ask their primary care physician to perform a simple blood test to determine if they carry the mutant gene for retinitis pigmentosa. This can help the patient better weigh the risks and benefits of using ED drugs and also offer peace of mind.”

Categories: Eye Conditions, Eye Health
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