Professor Anthony Khawaja recently attended the annual Swedish Ophthalmology Society conference in Uddevalla as an International expert guest speaker. Representing UCL Institute of Ophthalmology and Moorfields Eye Hospital in London, he presented on ‘Genetics and Personalised Medicine in Glaucoma’.

Focusing on the Swedish ‘Fika’ (coffee and sweet pastry) rituals and high caffeine consumption per capita (8.2kg per year), included in the presentation was a recent study that Professor Khawaja co-authored. The research looked at the link between habitual caffeine intake, with intraocular pressure (IOP) and glaucoma. The study, which involved over 120,000 British participants, concluded that for those with the strongest genetic predisposition to glaucoma, greater caffeine consumption was associated with higher IOP and higher risk of glaucoma.

Professor Khawaja pointed out that although this association was seen across the whole range of caffeine intake, those drinking over 5 cups of coffee (or other caffeinated drinks) per day were at the most significant risk. But, this study doesn’t prove conclusively the cause and effect and further randomised controlled trials would be needed to see if there are other factors involved.

There is building evidence that simple lifestyle changes can help to manage eye pressure, with limiting caffeine consumption being just one. “Glaucoma patients often ask if they can help to protect their sight through lifestyle changes, however this has been a relatively understudied area until now,” he said.

One of Professor Khawaja’s research group’s major interests is lifestyle factors that may influence glaucoma risk. They have examined multiple factors including alcohol consumption, salt intake and physical activity.

Mr Anthony Khawaja is President of the European Eye Epidemiology (E3) consortium, which promotes the sharing of knowledge and research between 31 groups originating from 13 different European countries.

They recently published their most recent research in the sector-leading Ophthalmology journal on the association of common systemic medications with glaucoma and intraocular pressure (IOP).

The study found that calcium channel blockers (CCBs) had a modest and statistically significant association with glaucoma.

Glaucoma and blood pressure drugs

Patients with a history of CCB treatment had a 23% higher likelihood of having glaucoma as compared with individuals who never used the antihypertensives. In contrast, beta-blocker therapy was associated with modestly reduced intraocular pressure (IOP), which is associated with a reduced risk of glaucoma.

“While our novel findings require further studies to determine whether the associations are causal, these findings will be of interest to physicians caring for glaucoma patients with systemic comorbidities,” Mr Anthony Khawaja explains.

“A potentially harmful association of CCBs for glaucoma is particularly noteworthy, as this is a commonly prescribed class of medication,” he added. “If further studies confirm a casual nature for this association, this may inform alternative treatment strategies for hypertensive patients with, or at risk of, glaucoma.”

Coverage of the study was widespread and Mr Anthony Khawaja was also delighted to be included in Bottom Line newsletter, the largest subscription newsletter in the US which offers expert advice on everything health related. They covered the study in their most editorial round-up.