Women’s Eye Health: What You Need to Know

Eye exam chart and a woman's eye

April marks the beginning of Women’s Eye Health and Safety Month, a time designated to increasing awareness of the importance of women’s eye health and establishing and maintaining healthy vision care practices.

Research indicates women are at greater risk than men for most eye diseases, including age-related macular degeneration (AMD), cataracts and glaucoma. However, one of every four women has not had an eye examination within the last two years, citing exam cost, transportation logistics and not having enough time as reasons. What’s more, less than 10% of U.S. women realize they are at greater risk of permanent vision loss than men, even though women comprise two-thirds of the 4.4 million people in the U.S. age 40-plus who are visually impaired or blind.

Maintaining healthy eye care practices, including regular eye examinations and recommended tests, can optimize eye health and lessen the effects of eye disease through early detection and treatment should they occur.

Women and Eye Health

Many factors may be implicated in the increased risks of eye disease in women, including:

  • Age.  Women tend to live longer than men, making them more prone to age-related eye diseases.
  • Hormones. Women face hormonal issues during menstruation, pregnancy and menopause that can impact eye health.
  • Autoimmune diseases. Women are three times more often affected than men with autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, all of which have serious side effects affecting vision.
  • Time. Women tend to put their family’s health ahead of their own.

Tips to Maximize Eye Health

Fortunately, there are many things we can do to take care of our eyesight, which happens to be the most valued of the five senses as indicated by 80% of respondents taking a recent survey:  

  • Quit smoking. Smoking is the most modifiable risk factor for age-related macular degeneration (AMD) development and progression. Smoking can also lead to cataracts, glaucoma and optic nerve damage. Studies have found children exposed to second-hand smoke have increased potential susceptibility to AMD during later years.
  • Take supplements. Follow your doctor’s eye health supplement recommendations.
  • Practice lifelong healthy nutrition. Following a well-balanced diet with foods high in eye-benefitting nutrients is key to good vision health. Dark leafy greens are shown to potentially reduce AMD risk. Berries, fish (salmon, tuna, halibut and other oily fish), walnuts and vegetables (carrots, kale, spinach) high in antioxidants can improve vision, reduce inflammation in and around eyes and fight macular degeneration. Other nutritious foods are eggs, beans and non-meat proteins.
  • Know your family’s eye disease history. Many diseases like AMD, cataracts and glaucoma can be hereditary. Ask family members about their eye health and alert your doctor of any changes.
  • Wear UV-blocking sunglasses and a brimmed hat outdoors (even on cloudy days.)  Prolonged UV ray exposure can increase risk of AMD and cataracts. Look for lenses blocking 99-100% of both UVA and UVB rays. 
  • Use protective eyewear. Wear polycarbonate protective eyewear to protect eyes during hazardous work, sports and chores associated with increased eye injury risks. There are 2,000 work-related serious eye injuries daily in the U.S. Every 13 minutes, a sports-related eye injury shows up in the ER.
  • Monitor computer screen time. Long screen time leads to blurred vision, headaches and focusing issues. Exercise your eyes every 15 minutes away from the computer to rest eye muscles and adjust focus.
  • Maintain healthy weight. Complications related to chronic health conditions like diabetes and hypertension can increase risk of vision loss.
  • Practice stringent hygiene and care of contact lenses. Only wear prescribed lenses from your licensed eye care professional under their supervision. Remove contact lenses before bathing or washing your face to prevent acanthamoeba keratitis, which occurs when exposed to water contaminated with the amoeba Acanthamoeba. Always handle lenses with clean hands using soaps without oils and perfumes. Remove, clean, disinfect, store and replace contact lenses exactly as directed by your eye care professional.
  • Use caution with eye makeup application and storage. Always wash hands before applying eye makeup. Keep eye makeup applicators clean. Remove eye makeup before bedtime no matter how tired to avoid eye infections. Avoid leaving any makeup in your car as extreme temperatures can breakdown preservatives, allowing bacteria a place to thrive.

The Importance of Eye Exams

Minor changes in vision usually occur by age 40. During middle age, the human eye lens become less flexible, making it harder to focus on nearby objects (called presbyopia) which is common in those age 40-plus. Eye muscles, like our body’s other muscles, may exhibit signs of weakening as we age. These changes make it important to have your eyes examined by a licensed eye care practitioner as recommended.

Most age-related eye diseases don’t exhibit any obvious symptoms. Comprehensive dilated eye exams are the only way to detect these diseases that can lead to serious vision consequences, or even vision loss.

Through dilation, eye care professionals can check for leaking blood vessels, unusual lens changes and nerve tissue damage and look for symptoms relating to diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration, cataracts, glaucoma and other eye diseases.

Depending on age, eye care experts recommend getting a dilated eye exam in intervals between one and three years. Those over age 40 should schedule a yearly eye exam. Those age 50-plus face an increased risk of macular degeneration that if untreated can eventually destroy the area of the eye providing clear, sharp vision.

Hormone Effects on Vision

Hormonal surges can affect your vision during pregnancy. Vision issues that can occur include:

  • Dry eye
  • Refractive errors
  • Diabetic retinopathy
  • Retinal detachment due to high blood pressure
  • Puffy eyelids

Women diagnosed with diabetes who are planning pregnancy or are already pregnant should schedule a full dilated eye exam while pregnant to check for symptoms and signs of diabetic retinopathy, which can lead to blindness if left untreated.

Most conditions are temporary and disappear post-delivery; however, you should continue to monitor your eye health and be alert for symptoms and signs of serious eye problems.

Menopausal women may experience age-related changes in the eyes, including seeing changes of colors and decreased tear production, also known as dry eye syndrome.

No matter what your age, it is important to be mindful of any changes in your eyes or vision, including pain, irritation or anything that is unusual. Call to schedule an appointment with your eye care professional should such issues persist.

Call your local Capital Women’s Care team if you have any questions or concerns about eye health or vision care for you or your family.

Our Mission

The providers of Capital Women's Care seek the highest quality medical and ethical standard in an environment that nurtures the spirit of caring for every woman.

 

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