There are many healthcare issues specific to women, and eye health is no exception. Women have higher rates of eye diseases such as cataracts, glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration. They also have a higher prevalence of dry eye and may experience changes in vision related to pregnancy and menopause.
Women also have greater instances of eye disorders because they tend to live longer, are more likely to undergo certain cancer treatments, and experience normal age-related hormonal changes. Additionally, women are more susceptible to autoimmune diseases than men, many of which impact vision, such as lupus, Sjögren’s syndrome and an overactive thyroid.
Because of their specialized healthcare needs, Prevent Blindness has designated April as Women’s Eye Health and Safety Month. This is an effort to educate women on the best ways to take care of vision.
Hormones and Vision
Estrogen can have a big impact on vision. In addition to puberty in girls, women experience a rush of hormones during pregnancy and a depletion of hormones during menopause.
In the case of pregnancy, women may experience blurry vision, light sensitivity, and even headaches and migraines due to fluctuating hormone levels and fluid retention. Once they deliver (and stop breastfeeding), most women see their vision return to normal.
One note to keep in mind: blurry vision combined with seeing spots or haloes during pregnancy, could be a symptom of preeclampsia, characterized by high blood pressure and sometimes liver and kidney damage. In all cases, pregnant women should be sure to discuss vision changes with their OB/GYN.
Menopause can also affect a woman’s vision. As estrogen levels decline, female tissues can become dry and undergo structural changes. This can cause dry eye and blurry vision. While lubricating eye drops can help, working with your doctor to adjust hormone levels can mean the difference between eye discomfort and irritation and normal vision.
What you can do to protect your eyes and vision
Get regular eye exams. Inform your eye care provider about your family medical history and ask how you can protect your eyes from sports injuries and workplace-related vision problems, including eye strain from digital devices.
If you smoke, stop. It increases the risk of many serious eye diseases. Protect your eyes from sun damage. Wear UV-blocking sunglasses and a brimmed hat outdoors.
Use cosmetics safely. Misusing them can allow dangerous bacteria or fungi to grow, which causes infections and, in rare cases, temporary and permanent blindness. Be sure to wash your hands before using any eye cosmetic! Don’t share or swap them unless you also want to share and swap germs. Discard mascara 2 to 4 months after purchase or if it is dried up. Beware of “testers” in retail stores Never try to put on eye make- up in a moving car. Think twice about dying your eyelashes or eyebrows: tints and dyes have been known to cause serious eye injuries. If a cosmetic eye product causes an irritation, stop using it immediately and see a doctor if symptoms persist.
Eat a healthy diet. Fresh fruits and vegetables provide the vitamins and minerals your eyes need to stay healthy.
Pay attention to sports safety. Baseball or softball is the leading cause of eye injuries among females, followed by cycling and soccer. Always wear eye protection or face masks with shatterproof polycarbonate. Know that prescription glasses, sunglasses and even occupational safety glasses do not provide adequate protection when playing sports and may shatter when hit by flying objects. If you wear glasses, try sports goggles on top of them.
Remember, up to 80 percent of blindness and visual impairment is preventable or treatable.