Throughout their lives, women will likely experience some sort of change in their vision, whether it be a need for glasses or contacts, a serious infection or even an eye disease. Because women are more prone to eye disease than men, it is important for them to know how to protect their sight, even if they haven’t noticed any symptoms.
Cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration (AMD), four leading causes of blindness, are all more prevalent in women than men. In fact, women make up two-thirds of the more than 3.4 million Americans age 40 and older who are visually impaired. Unfortunately, because there is no cure for these diseases, early detection and treatment are the only way to preserve vision.
Because of these startling numbers, Prevent Blindness America, the nation’s leading volunteer eye health and safety organization, has designated April as Women’s Eye Health and Safety Awareness Month. The group hopes to educate the public on the importance of eye care and encourage women of all ages to schedule an exam with an eye care professional.
“There so many changes that the body goes through over our lifetime that it is imperative that we monitor each of them closely, especially our eyes,” added Daniel D. Garrett, senior vice president of Prevent Blindness America. “A young woman going through her first pregnancy, a middle-aged woman noticing she’s having trouble with her peripheral vision, or an elderly woman who is having a hard time reading the newspaper can all benefit tremendously by getting a complete, professional eye exam.”
Women who are pregnant can still have their eyes safely dilated. This is also a good time for women who suffer from pre-existing conditions, like high blood pressure and diabetes, to tell their eye doctor that they are pregnant. Because of an increase in hormones, some may notice changes in their vision including refractive changes, dry eyes, puffy eyelids that obscure side vision and sensitivity to light due to migraine headaches. Some vision changes in pregnant women, such as blurred vision and seeing spots, may be signs of a more serious problem and should be discussed with a doctor immediately.
Another eye disease that affects mostly women is chronic dry eye. In fact, one in 12 women over the age of 50 has the condition, which may be caused by a decrease in estrogen levels due to menopause that can change the quantity and quality of tears. Chronic dry eye symptoms include blurred vision, light sensitivity and sensation of itchiness or irritation in the eyes. Without treatment, some may ultimately suffer vision loss.
Besides early detection, Prevent Blindness America offers suggestions for women to keep their eyes healthy:
Eat Healthy and Stay Fit
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that the risk of cataracts can be lowered by eating 3½ servings of fruits or vegetables a day. Green leafy vegetables especially contain loads of nutrients for the eye. Pairing a healthy diet with exercise will reduce the risk of diabetes.
Antioxidants have been shown to actually reduce the progression of some eye illnesses, including AMD. Vitamin A, riboflavin (vitamin B2), vitamin C and zinc are good sources to help maintain eye health.
Besides the typically-known side effects of smoking including cancer, lung disease, etc., it also increases the risk for eye diseases. Even second hand smoke is dangerous.
Wear UV Eye Protection
When venturing outdoors, PBA recommends wearing brimmed hats in conjunction with UV-rated sunglasses (labeled: absorbs 99-100 percent of UV-A and UV-B rays). UV rays are extremely dangerous to the eyes.
Know Your Family History
Genetics plays a key role in eye disease. Research your family’s health history and notify your eye care professional of any eye diseases that run in the family.
For more information on women’s eye health, including fact sheets on eye diseases, pregnancy and vision, and the safe use of cosmetics, please visit www.preventblindness.org or call 1-800-331-2020.