Of the many health differences between men and wwomen, many may not be aware of the fact that women are more affected by eye diseases and other eye conditions than men.
Every year, more women than men are diagnosed with eye diseases such as glaucoma, cataracts, macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy. Women may experience changes in vision in various stages of their lives including pregnancy and post-menopause.
The 2008 “Vision Problems in the U.S.” study from Prevent Blindness America and the National Eye Institute consistently shows that more women are diagnosed with major eye diseases. And, of the more than 3.6 million Americans age 40 and older who suffer from visual impairment, including blindness, 2.3 million are women.
This trend is repeated in Ohio where women, as a population, experience a higher incidence of eye diseases. About 920,000 million women are affected by vision impairment and eye diseases compared to 565,000 men.
Women are also more susceptible to dry eye syndrome, a condition where not enough natural tears are produced. Approximately 6 million women and 3 million men have moderate to severe symptoms of dry eye syndrome, according to the National Women’s Health Resource Center. It is more frequent in post-menopausal and pregnant women, due to hormonal fluctuations.
Women who are pregnant or receiving fertility treatments may experience changes in their vision. Because of an increase in hormones, some may notice changes 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 as this may be a sign of diabetes or high blood pressure. All women who are diabetic and pregnant or who are planning to become pregnant should get a full, dilated eye exam.
And for older women, a recent study published in the March 2010 issue of Ophthalmology showed that women who are post menopausal and receiving Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) treatments may be at an increased risk for cataracts. (A cataract is a clouding of the lens in the eye, the part of the eye that focuses light and produces clear images.)
The study by Birgitta E. Lindblad, MD, Sundsvall Hospital, Sweden as part of the Swedish Mammography Cohort (SMC), states that of the more than 30,000 postmenopausal Swedish women studied who were using or had used HRT had significantly higher rates of cataract removal compared with women who had never used HRT.
The “Hormone Replacement Therapy in Relation to Risk of Cataract Extraction: A Prospective Study of Women” data showed the risk for cataract removal was increased by 14 percent in women who had never used HRT and by 18 percent in current HRT users. And, longer duration of HRT use correlated with increased risk.
“Although more research needs to be completed regarding linking cataract increases with HRT, the message is clear that all women need to take the time to take care of their eyes today in order to maintain healthy vision in the future,” said Sherry Williams, President & CEO of Prevent Blindness Ohio. “No matter what age you are, it’s never too early to start visiting your eye doctor and scheduling regular dilated eye exams.”
For more information on eye diseases such as cataracts, changes in vision due to pregnancy, or a listing of Prevent Blindness Ohio services, please visit www.pbohio.org or call 800-301-2020.
WOMEN’S EYE HEALTH & SAFETY TALKING POINTS
DRY EYE SYNDROME
- Of the 3.6 million Americans age 40 and older who are visually impaired, 2.3 million are women.
- Of the four leading eye diseases, women outnumber men in every category
- According to the Women’s Eye Health Task Force, risk factors for premature death due to heart disease or cancer are the same as those for blindness and vision impairment. These factors include, smoking; excess weight; imbalanced, unhealthy diet; lack of exercise and exposure to UV rays.
- 3.2 million American women over the age of 50, or one in 12, have chronic dry eye.
- About 6 million women and 3 million men have moderate to severe symptoms of dry eye syndrome. Another 20-30 million people have mild cases of the disease. It affects women two to three times more than men. (Healthwomen.org)
- Menopause brings dry eyes because estrogen controls the tear glands, so a reduction in estrogen causes a reduction in tears. (Corneal Research Laboratory, University of Rochester).
- Some people are unable to produce enough natural tears, leaving the eyes dry and irritated. It is more frequent in postmenopausal and pregnant women, due to hormonal fluctuations. There is no cure, but the condition can usually be controlled through the use of over-the-counter eye drops (artificial tears).
- Hispanic and Asian women are more likely to be affected by symptoms of chronic dry eye. (Healthywomen.org)
- In rare cases, dry eye can become serious ? leading to eye iinfections or a damaged cornea. That is why it is important to visit an eye care professional if you think you have dry eye.
- Using a humidifier, avoiding cigarette smoke, and using artificial tears and/or ointments can help relieve discomfort.
Prevent Blindness America offers these tips to help lower the incidence of eye diseases in women:
- 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.
- Take Supplements- 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.
Quit Smoking- Besides the typically known side effects of smoking including cancer, lung disease, etc., it also increases the risk for eye diseases.
Wear UV Eye Protection- When venturing outdoors, Prevent Blindness America 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 for 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.
Prevent Blindness Ohio, founded in 1957, is Ohio’s leading volunteer nonprofit public health organization dedicated to preventing blindness and preserving sight. We serve all 88 Ohio counties, providing direct services to more than 800,000 Ohioans annually and educating millions of consumers about what they can do to protect and preserve their precious gift of sight. Prevent Blindness Ohio is an affiliate of Prevent Blindness America, the country’s second-oldest national voluntary health organization. For more information or to make a contribution, visit our website at www.pbohio.org or call 800-301-2020.
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