Did you know that two-thirds of all blindness and visual impairment occurs in women? For this and several other reasons, women's eye health deserves special attention.
- Women typically live longer, putting them at higher risk for eye diseases such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), glaucoma, and cataracts.
- Women are also more likely to suffer from autoimmune conditions, which often come with visual side effects.
- Normal age-related hormonal changes may also affect women’s eyes. Dry eye, for example, is more common in women, partly due to hormonal changes that come with aging.
"We want women to be engaged in caring for their eye health," says Kathleen B. Digre, MD, of the John A. Moran Eye Center at the University of Utah. “Women may be less likely to access health care for themselves, for example, if they forego regular exams to manage family concerns or take care of others instead of themselves.”
Digre specializes in neuro-ophthalmology and migraines in her practice. Migraines, which can have vision-related symptoms, occur more frequently in women than men.
"One in five women suffers from migraines," Digre says. “But some women don’t even know they have migraines and may confuse their symptoms with other types of headaches, so it’s important to get a diagnosis.”
Less likely to access health care
According to a survey by Prevent Blindness,
- Less than 10% of women realize that they are at a greater risk of permanent vision loss than men
- 86% incorrectly believe that men and women are at equal risk
- 5% think that men are at greater risk
- One in four women has not had an eye exam in the last two years
Plan on prevention
What should women be doing to protect their eyes?
- Get a dilated eye exam. This is the only way to know if your eyes are healthy and your vision is intact.
- Eat a healthy diet. Lower your risk of eye disease by eating plenty of fresh fruits (especially citrus); green, leafy vegetables; and salmon, tuna, and other oily fish. Include eggs, nuts, beans, and other non-meat protein sources.
- Maintain a healthy weight and manage chronic conditions, such as diabetes.
- Don't smoke. Smoking is linked to AMD, cataracts, and glaucoma.
- Know your family history and share it with your eye doctor. Many eye diseases are hereditary.
- Use protective eyewear. Protect your eyes when doing household chores or yardwork, playing sports, or working on a job that involves flying debris, sparks, or chemicals. Wear safety glasses, goggles, shields, or eye guards made of polycarbonate.
- Wear sunglasses. Sunglasses help protect your eyes from ultraviolet rays. Prolonged exposure to sunlight can increase your risk of cataracts and AMD. Look for sunglasses blocking out 99-100% of UVA and UVB rays.
"The more women know about their unique risks, the better. Make the time for regular eye exams—and in between, pay attention. If you experience pain, irritation, or anything unusual in your field of vision, get it checked out."
Women's Eye Health, a website written by and for women and produced in partnership with the National Eye Health Education Program and Women in Ophthalmology, offers helpful insights and detailed explanations of the eye diseases and conditions that affect women in more significant numbers.