FRIDAY, Sept. 30, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- People who use cocaine are 45 percent more likely to develop open-angle glaucoma, the most common form of the eye disease, according to a new study.
The study authors said the cocaine abusers who developed the condition were nearly 20 years younger than glaucoma patients who did not do drugs. They suggested that the findings could help doctors develop new treatments for the disease, which is currently the second most common cause of blindness in the United States.
"The association of illegal drug use with open-angle glaucoma requires further study, but if the relationship is confirmed, this understanding could lead to new strategies to prevent vision loss," the study's first author, Dustin French, a research scientist with the Center of Excellence on Implementing Evidence-Based Practice at the Department of Veterans Affairs in Indianapolis, said in a news release.
In conducting the study, published in the September issue of the Journal of Glaucoma, the researchers examined information on 5.3 million men and women seen in Department of Veterans Affairs' outpatient clinics over the course of one year.
The study found about 1.5 percent of those patients had glaucoma. Over this same time frame, about 3.3 percent of all those seen in the outpatient clinics had used cocaine.
Although the study doesn't prove that using cocaine causes glaucoma, the researchers concluded there is significantly higher risk for the eye condition among those with a history of drug abuse -- particularly since people are usually in their teens or 20s when they start using illegal drugs.
The study's authors noted more research is needed to explore the long-term effects of cocaine use on the development of glaucoma.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health provides more information on glaucoma.