Is Estrogen a Therapeutic Target for Glaucoma?

Semin Ophthalmol. 2016;31(1-2):140-6. doi: 10.3109/08820538.2015.1114845.


This article's objective is to provide an overview of the association between estrogen and glaucoma. A literature synthesis was conducted of articles published in peer-reviewed journals screened through May 5, 2015, using the PubMed database. Keywords used were "estrogen and glaucoma," "reproductive factors and glaucoma," and "estrogen, nitric oxide and eye." Forty-three journal articles were included. Results indicated that markers for lifetime estrogen exposure have been measured by several studies and show that the age of menarche onset, oral contraceptive (OC) use, bilateral oophorectomy, age of menopause onset and duration between menarche to menopause are associated with primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG) risk. The Blue Mountain Eye Study found a significantly increased POAG risk with later (>13 years) compared with earlier (≤12 years) age of menarche. Nurses' Health Study (NHS) investigators found that OC use of greater than 5 years was associated with a 25% increased risk of POAG. The Mayo Clinic Cohort Study of Oophorectomy and Aging found that women who underwent bilateral oophorectomy before age 43 years had an increased risk of glaucoma. The Rotterdam Study found that women who went through menopause before reaching the age of 45 years had a higher risk of open-angle glaucoma (2.6-fold increased risk), while the NHS showed a reduced risk of POAG among women older than 65 who entered menopause after age ≥ 54 years. Increased estrogen states may confer a reduced risk of glaucoma or glaucoma-related traits such as reduced intraocular pressure (IOP). Pregnancy, a hyperestrogenemic state, is associated with decreased IOP during the third trimester. Though the role of postmenopausal hormone (PMH) use in the reduction of IOP is not fully conclusive, PMH use may reduce the risk of POAG. From a genetic epidemiologic perspective, estrogen metabolic pathway single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) were associated with POAG in women and polymorphisms in endothelial nitric oxide synthase, a gene receptive to estrogen regulation, are associated with glaucoma. The study concluded that increasing evidence suggests that lifetime exposure to estrogen may alter the pathogenesis of glaucoma. Estrogen exposure may have a neuroprotective effect on the progression of POAG but further studies need to confirm this finding. The role of sex-specific preventive and therapeutic treatment may be on the horizon.

Keywords: Estrogen; glaucoma; optic nerve degeneration; postmenopausal hormones; reproductive hormones; sex differences.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Estrogen Replacement Therapy
  • Estrogens / physiology*
  • Female
  • Glaucoma, Open-Angle / epidemiology*
  • Glaucoma, Open-Angle / physiopathology
  • Glaucoma, Open-Angle / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Intraocular Pressure / drug effects
  • Menopause / physiology
  • Optic Nerve Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Optic Nerve Diseases / physiopathology
  • Optic Nerve Diseases / prevention & control
  • Pregnancy


  • Estrogens