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Did you know that many vision concerns that damage eyesight affect more women than men? Of the world’s visually impaired, two-thirds are women. Women’s increased risk of vision impairment and blindness can be attributed to a longer average lifespan and a higher susceptibility to autoimmune disorders like lupus and MS, and other diseases that affect vision. Because of this, women have an increased risk of vision concerns like:

  • Glaucoma
  • Age-related macular degeneration
  • Diabetic retinopathy
  • Cataracts
  • Chronic dry eye
  • Light sensitivity
  • Eye inflammation
  • Blurry vision, spots in vision, or vision changes

April is Women’s Eye Health and Safety Month—a month dedicated to informing women of the vision risks they may face, and to promote women’s vision care. Here are seven things you need to know about women’s eye health.

  1. Annual eye exams are as important as annual physical exams
    You know you shouldn’t skip your physical exam—but annual eye exams are also essential. Regular eye exams are especially important as you get older to catch early symptoms of cataracts, glaucoma, and age-related macular degeneration. Don’t wait until you are older to make a habit of annual vision care visits, though—eye diseases can creep up on you at any age and, if left undiagnosed, may lead to permanent vision loss. Annual exams with your optometrist can help catch diseases early, which allows for early treatment to help preserve your eyesight.

    Some say your eyes are the window to your soul, but they may also be the key to what’s going on inside your body. Conditions such as diabetes, thyroid concerns, autoimmune disorders, and hypertension—among others—may be discovered during a routine eye exam. Inform your optometrist about any medications you are on—prescription or over-the-counter—and let her know about any symptoms you’ve been experiencing or conditions with which you have been diagnosed. Medical concerns such as diabetes, lupus, high blood pressure, and more can impact your vision as well.
  2. But, don’t wait to contact your eye doctor for these symptoms
    Vision changes usually happen gradually, but some symptoms and injuries require immediate attention. If you experience vision loss or eye pain after starting a new medication, consult with the doctor that prescribed the drug—and only stop the medication if advised to by your physician. Additionally, these symptoms warrant a visit to your eye care provider:
    • Sudden vision changes or vision loss
    • Chronic headaches
    • Eye injury or infection
    • Chemicals in the eye
    • Swelling, bleeding, or pain in your eye

      You should see your eye doctor if you experience any of these but follow your gut as well—if something doesn’t seem right, make an appointment. Early diagnosis of eye diseases may prevent permanent vision loss.
  3. Hormones can cause vision changes
    Because hormones are important for regulating functions within the body, it’s no surprise that the eyes may be affected by hormonal changes or imbalance. Birth control pills, hormone replacement therapy, fertility treatments, and hormone fluctuations may put women at an increased risk of vision problems like dry eye syndrome, irritation, and vision changes—and a slightly higher likelihood of developing glaucoma and cataracts. Some vision changes connected to hormone treatments may stabilize as hormone levels do, but certain damage—like vision loss due to glaucoma—can be permanent.

    While blurry vision and dry eye are common during pregnancy and usually go away after birth, symptoms such as vision loss, double vision, or flashes in your vision may be a sign of preeclampsia, a condition that requires immediate attention from your physician.
  4. Nutrition and lifestyle choices affect your eyesight
    You can’t eat enough carrots to avoid glasses, but your diet and lifestyle choices can affect your eye health. A poor diet can increase the risk for health concerns like diabetes, which in turn may affect vision. Proper nutrition and healthy activities are great for the whole body, so get enough exercise and pack your diet full of foods that help protect your eyesight, like:
    • Dark, leafy greens and eggs for lutein
    • Fish, nuts, beans, and oils high in Omega-3s
    • Citrus and other fruits and veggies with vitamin C
    • Yogurt, nuts, meat, and other foods rich in zinc
  5. Smoking increases vision health risk
    Smoking can increase your risk for eye disease, vision impairment, and blindness. Smokers are more likely to suffer from dry eye syndrome, have at least three times the risk of developing cataracts and age-related macular degeneration, and are at a greater risk of developing health conditions like diabetes that contribute to vision loss. It isn’t only your own health at risk—smoking while pregnant increases the risk of vision concerns in infants, and exposure to second-hand smoke can increase risk in others. Quitting can reduce your risk of developing adverse health conditions related to smoking that may cause vision impairment and blindness.
  6. Consider your family’s health history
    Your family’s medical and eye health background can point to potential vision concerns and diseases for which you may be at an increased risk. Many eye disease—like glaucoma and macular degeneration—show few symptoms prior to onset, so knowledge of a genetic predisposition to eye disease can help catch symptoms for early treatment.
  7. Sunglasses are more than just a fashion statement
    Yes, your Dolce & Gabbana sunnies are stunning—but they’re also important for your vision. Wearing sunglasses protects against UV rays that can cause damage to your eyes. The sun’s ultraviolet rays can contribute to macular degeneration and cataracts, and can cause incredibly painful corneal sunburn. It’s not just the summer sun that you need to worry about, either. Snow can reflect even more of the sun’s rays into your eyes, so don those sunglasses in the winter, too. Wrap styles offer extra protection, and also cut down on wind that may irritate dry eyes. Don’t reach for just any sunglasses—make sure they offer 100% UV protection.

Vision-related concerns are increasing around the world at an alarming rate, with women affected at a higher rate than men—but you can take steps to protect your own vision. Regular eye exams, a healthy diet, getting enough exercise, and stepping out in a pair of flawless sunnies are just a few of the ways you can keep your eyes in top shape.

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