April is Women’s Eye Health and Safety Month. There are many important reasons to make it a priority.
If you are a woman, you may not realize that your vision needs are different from those of men. According to Prevent Blindness, two thirds of people living with blindness or other vision problems are women. Moreover, women are more susceptible to major vision problems and health issues that may affect eyesight including:
- Age-related Macular Degeneration
- Autoimmune Diseases
- Dry Eye
- Low Vision
- Thyroid Eye Disease
- Refractive Error
Part of the reason for this difference is that women typically live longer than men by a few years, which means that they are more likely to experience age-related vision loss, and to live with it for longer. However, even controlling for age and other factors, women are still about 7% more likely to experience vision problems.
Amidst all the other concerns women have to deal with, making time for their eye health can often end up on the back burner. However, many eye conditions if detected early enough can be treated to prevent deterioration, and given women’s longevity, making their eye care a priority is especially urgent. Here are seven steps women can take to safeguard their vision for years to come.
1. Learn about your family history.
Some eye conditions carry a genetic component. For instance, those whose family members have glaucoma are four to nine times more likely to develop the condition themselves. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) also tends to run in families, such that 20% of those with AMD have a sibling or parent who also suffers from it. Finally, 58% of age-related cataracts can be attributed to genetics.
Knowing about your family history can help you spot symptoms and receive treatment faster. If you don’t know your family history, take time to ask family members next time you see them about any conditions they may be aware of.
2. Learn about how hormonal changes affect vision.
Many women experience vision changes during pregnancy, such as puffy eyes or dryness. Hormonal changes can cause the body to store water differently, and fluid retention in the eyes can increase pressure on the eyeball leading to a thicker cornea and blurry vision. Blurred vision can also indicate low blood sugar in women who have gestational diabetes, or pre-eclampsia, whose symptoms also include flashing lights, spots, or floaters. If you are experiencing these symptoms, it is important to contact your doctor for support.
During menopause, declines in the hormones estrogen and androgen can also affect eye glands leading to eyes that can be either too dry (because the tear ducts aren’t producing enough tears), or watery (because the glands cannot produce enough natural oils, and so tears evaporate too quickly). Menopause can also cause eyes to change shape, which can affect the fit of contact lenses.
3. Follow hygiene and safety recommendations when applying cosmetics.
Given how closely cosmetics are applied to the eyes, it’s no surprise that they can have a significant effect on eye health. The makeup you wear, how you apply it, and how you remove it can introduce bacteria and physical irritants into the eye while stripping away protective fluids.
To keep your eyes safe, clean your brushes and eyelash curler after use, replace mascara and eye liner after three months, and never share cosmetics. Always remove makeup before going to bed, but avoid oil-free makeup removers as they can strip your eyes of their natural oils. Storing makeup in a warm environment, such as your car, can create a breeding ground for bacteria. Finally, be careful with glittery eye shadow as these larger particles can cause more damage if they get under your eyelids, and avoid applying them to your waterline as it can interfere with tear ducts.
4. Follow hygiene and safety recommendations when applying contacts.
Always wash your hands before applying your contacts, and take them out before you sleep, swim, or shower. The CDC also recommends you replace your contact case regularly, as it can become infected with bacteria even with thorough cleaning.
5. Wear sunglasses with UV eye protection.
Sunglasses can protect your eyes from UV radiation, which can lead to cataracts, AMD, cancers, and cornea damage. However, not all sunglasses are created equal, and some can even harm your eyes. This is because dimming the light that reaches your eye causes your pupils to dilate. If your sunglasses do not block UV light, or if they are too small and allow light to enter in around the frames, then the sunglasses can actually be exposing you to more UV rays.
The best sunglasses are UV blocking, and are large enough to provide protection from rays entering from the periphery. Wearing a wide-brimmed hat can also help.
6. Don’t smoke and eat a healthy diet.
The nutrients we consume and our body’s ability to absorb them have a profound impact on our eye health. Eating a diet rich in green, leafy vegetables and fish can help maintain your vision. Smoking is specifically linked to AMD and cataracts, with smokers twice as likely to develop AMD as non-smokers and two to three times more likely to develop cataracts.
7. Schedule regular eye exams.
Eye exams can spot many of these conditions before they progress significantly, and are a crucial touchpoint for eye doctors to be sure their patients are in good health. They also give women a chance to ask questions about changes in their vision and share their medical history so that their doctors know what to keep an eye out for.
Self-care is part of family care.
For women, taking care of their eye health is something worthwhile and important that they should do for their own sakes. But it’s all too easy for parents—and women especially—to neglect their eye health even as they manage that of their children (and sometimes even their spouses). So, while women of all ages and walks of life have many reasons to consider their vision seriously, we’d like to give women who are mothers or caregivers an additional reminder that their eye health is just as essential as anyone else’s.
At Heritage, we encourage all our members to make full use of their vision benefits, including their annual eye exam. Make your vision care a priority by scheduling your eye exam today.