Glaucoma may be linked to allergens

May 20, 2015

The immune system may play a role in the development of glaucomatous optic neuropathy, according to the results of a newly published study.

The immune system may play a role in the development of glaucomatous optic neuropathy, according to the results of a newly published study. More research is needed to determine how chronic exposure to indoor allergens might be involved, however, say investigators. Their retrospective, cross-sectional study examined the link between glaucoma and serum immunoglobulin E (IgE) levels for a panel of common indoor allergens-dust mites and cockroach, cat and dog allergens.

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Writing in the American Journal of Ophthalmology, the scientists, from the University of California, Los Angeles, and Johns Hopkins University, explained that participants in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) who had glaucoma were more likely to be sensitized to cockroach and cat allergens compared with those who did not have glaucoma. They studied almost 1,700 people aged in their 50s and 60s; glaucoma had been diagnosed in 5.1% of them.

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The researchers found that the highest proportion of positive IgE values was associated with the American dust mite antigen. They also found statistically significant associations between IgE subtypes and glaucoma for the other aforementioned antigens. For instance, 19.1% of those with glaucoma had levels of the allergic antibody that were significantly elevated in relation to cockroaches, and 14.3% had elevated levels of IgE to cats. By comparison, 10% of those without glaucoma had elevated IgE levels in relation to cats or cockroaches.

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When dog allergens were examined, IgE levels were elevated in 6% of those with glaucoma and 9.2% in those without the disease. Biochemical or physical attributes of cat- and cockroach-related allergens may trigger antibodies targeting the optic nerve, the researchers say, adding that properties related to dog allergens may be different because those animals spend more time outdoors.

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Because total IgE levels for all of the tested allergens were not associated with glaucoma, the researchers believe that the cat and cockroach allergens specifically may be associated with glaucoma development. Also, because the study did not assess different subtypes of glaucoma and their association with IgE, cross-reactions with other allergens may have affected some antibody levels, making more research necessary, according to the researchers.