Women are at greater risk than men of suffering from degenerative eye diseases or blindness in their lifetime. In fact, 66 percent of blindness and visual impairment in the U.S. occurs in women, according to the National Eye Institute.
Why? It’s mainly because women live longer, meaning their eyes are strained by years of use. But women are also more susceptible to autoimmune diseases with vision-loss side effects. Knowing these facts can help women protect themselves from sight-stealing disorders and other medical issues.
April is Women’s Eye Health and Safety Month, and doctors within Indiana University School of Medicine Department of Ophthalmology are looking to raise awareness, sharing the top three things women should do if they want to keep their eyes—and bodies—as healthy as they can.
1. Get regular eye exams, especially as you age. They could save your life.
It might surprise patients—regardless of their sex—to learn that a simple eye exam can expose a range of life-threatening health issues, including a patients’ risk of stroke, said Amanda Gosch, OD, assistant professor of clinical ophthalmology.
Doctors trained to examine the inner eye can see whether plaque has built up in the blood vessels there.
If plaque is found in the eyes, there’s a chance it’ll also be found in the carotid artery, Gosch said, and ophthalmologists and optometrists will often order further exams to check.
A blockage in the carotid artery could lead to a stroke, she said. And nearly 60 percent of stroke deaths are in women, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Eye exams can also reveal evidence of other developing health conditions, like diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol.
By the time they turn 40, women should have an eye exam to determine their baseline eye health. From there, exams are recommended every other year. Exams should become annual once a woman turns 60.
2. Maintain a healthy lifestyle and be aware of your family history.
A good diet and a regular exercise routine can help keep a number of health issues at bay, including eye diseases, Gosch said.
High blood pressure, for example, can be avoided by implementing daily physical activity and keeping to a low sodium diet. But if high blood pressure is left unchecked, it can cause weakened blood vessels and put women at risk for a heart attack. It can also cause irreversible damage to the retina—a condition called retinopathy.
Women should be mindful of the extensive damage such conditions can cause.
It’s also important for women to be aware of the eye diseases that have affected other members of their families, Gosch said.
If glaucoma or macular degeneration runs in the family, it’s important for women to seek treatment early to ensure a proper treatment plan can be created, she said.
3. Embrace protective eyewear.
Whether it’s wearing sunglasses on a bright day or goggles while playing sports, proper eyewear is essential to ensuring eyes are healthy and safe, Gosch said.
Sunglasses can protect women’s eyes from the same harmful UV rays that damage skin; so, women should wear sunglasses just as they wear sunscreen, she said. When buying sunglasses, check labels to ensure they offer 99-100 percent protection. Seek advice from certified retailers if you’re having trouble picking a good pair, she said.
Much in the same way sunglasses protect from the sun, safety glasses and goggles can keep a woman’s eyes from being hurt by balls on the tennis or racquetball court or stray brush in the garden, Gosch said. These should be worn whenever there is a risk of eye injury.