Our eyes determine how we see the world – literally. April is Women’s Eye Health and Safety Month. It’s more important than ever for women to make eye health a priority. According to a 2017 study from the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), women face a higher risk of blindness than men.
In recognition of this year’s Women’s Eye Health and Safety Month, here are some of the most common vision problems that women face and ways to avoid those problems and maintain healthy eyesight.
Women and Eye Problems
Sight-threatening conditions are more common in women than in men. According to the AAO, women make up 65 percent of age-related macular degeneration cases and 61 percent of glaucoma and cataract cases. Even more telling, 66 percent of blind patients are women.
Why this disparity between men and women? Some doctors believe that women are more prone to eye-related issues simply because most eye-related problems result from aging, and women live longer. However, some issues, such as dry eye, are more common in women regardless of age (dry eye occurs in women at nearly double the rate that it occurs in men). Most ophthalmologists recommend a comprehensive eye exam at 40 to catch any potential developing illnesses.
Many eye issues develop so slowly that some people aren’t aware of (or have chosen to ignore) problems with their vision.
The Most Common Vision Problems
Healthy eyes should always be a priority, but some vision problems are more common than others. A January 2021 Cleveland Clinic article noted some of the most common vision problems (and risk factors) below:
- Cataracts: cataracts are essentially clouds in the lens of the eye. They make vision seem foggy. To avoid cataracts, the Cleveland Clinic recommends wearing protective eyewear, avoiding smoking, and keeping an eye on weight and blood pressure.
- Diabetic retinopathy: diabetes can cause the retina to swell, making blood vessels in the eye leak fluid or grow. This swelling causes retinopathy, resulting in blurring vision, flashes, pain, and pressure within the eye.
- Macular degeneration: to understand this illness, it’s essential to know what the macula does. The macula, or the center of your retina, has light-sensing cells that allow you to focus on central vision. Macular degeneration sees a breakdown of tissue and blood vessel growth, making it difficult to see faces, read, drive or conduct other regular activities. To prevent macular degeneration, experts recommend eating plenty of leafy greens and fish, controlling blood pressure and cholesterol, and avoiding smoking at all costs. Smoking can double your risk of developing this disease as you get older.
- Glaucoma: glaucoma occurs when too much fluid fills the eye. The pressure from this fluid damages the optic nerve, which harms the central and peripheral vision. Experts recommend seeing a doctor regularly to test eye pressure.
- Refractive errors: eyes are a delicate organ, and every part must be shaped perfectly to send the correct signals to the brain. When your eyes aren’t working this way, vision becomes blurry. Refractive errors can cause nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism. Professionals recommend a yearly eye exam for those under 18 and over 65, and a bi-yearly exam for everyone in between.
Making Eye Care a Priority
They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and that’s never been more true than with eye health. While lifestyle changes are critical to preventing eyesight issues, doctors recommend taking concrete steps toward prioritizing eye health. Knowing your family history is important – according to the AAO, many eye diseases can be inherited, so it’s essential to know about your family. If a close relative has macular degeneration, your risk of developing this condition increases by 50 percent. A family history of glaucoma increases your risk of developing this disease by between four and nine times.
It’s also essential to see a doctor regularly. Eye appointments don’t need to be scary. The experts at HealthMarkets have broken down the steps of a standard eye appointment below:
- Visual field test: this test checks what you can see and helps diagnose any problems you might have with your peripheral vision (a sign of glaucoma).
- Visual acuity test: this is the standard eye chart test, which allows doctors to see how well you can see things at a distance.
- Dilation: dilation is a standard part of an eye exam. It lets more light into the eye, allowing the doctor to see straight to the back of the eye, the macula, and the optic nerve, and can help them diagnose diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, and age-related macular degeneration.
- Tonometry: in this part of the process, the doctor will measure the eye’s pressure by puffing a bit of air onto the surface. This tests risk for glaucoma and will be over before you know it.
Healthy Eye Lifestyle
Keeping your eyes healthy is crucial to keeping them safe and making sure you don’t suffer from long-term vision problems. The experts at the National Institute of Health (NIH) recommend the following tips for keeping your eyes healthy:
- Wear sunglasses: the sun can be very harmful to your eyes, so make sure to wear sunglasses even on cloudy days. The NIH recommends looking for sunglasses that block 99 to 100 percent of UVA and UVB radiation for best results.
- Wear the appropriate gear: some sports and activities give you the option of wearing protective eyewear. They are essential when playing certain sports, working in construction, or even when you’re doing some home repairs. Protective eyewear is inexpensive, and you can find excellent versions at some sports stores and eye care professionals.
- Take a break: screens hurt our eyes. Ensure that you’re taking regular breaks (the NIH recommends looking away every 20 minutes or so) for best results.
- Take contact lenses seriously: if you wear contact lenses, make sure that you take care of them properly and replace them regularly.
- Live a healthy lifestyle: eating healthy foods that are high in antioxidants and dark leafy greens is crucial to maintaining eye health, as is getting regular exercise. Regular exercise prevents diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, all of which can have adverse effects on vision.
- Quit smoking: smoking increases your risk for cataracts and is harmful to the optic nerve. Quitting smoking is essential to promote eye health.
- Reduce stress: increased stress can increase your risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, and type two diabetes – all factors that can negatively impact eye health.
Our eyes are some of our most valuable assets – they help us see the world around us. This April, make sure the women you know prioritize their eye health by booking an appointment with a local physician and taking the necessary steps to protect their eyesight.