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Women's Eye Health: The Surprising Risks and Practical Solutions

Most women understand how important it is to go visit the doctor regularly, so they can stay healthy and feel their best. However, many don't realize this means having their eyes checked as well. This is especially important for women since they are more likely than men to suffer from eye-related diseases and conditions such as:

  • Cataract
  • Glaucoma and
  • Age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

Unfortunately, many women don't know about this heightened risk, and are not doing enough to care for their healthy sight.

This lack of action can lead to staggering healthcare costs down the road. Plus, people with vision problems are more likely to miss work, and to suffer from headaches, eyestrain and fatigue that may keep them from performing at their full potential, on and off the job.

Understanding the Impact of Other Health Conditions on Vision

Not only are women at greater risk for many eye diseases, they are also at risk for several overall health conditions that impact their vision, too. These include:

  • Diabetes – One in 10 American women over the age of 20 has diabetes (CDC). Diabetes increases risk for several eye diseases – diabetic retinopathy, most commonly – as well as damage from ultraviolet (UV) light. People with diabetes often experience light sensitivity, difficulty distinguishing colors in low lighting and trouble driving at night.
    • Gestational diabetes is rare and disappears post-pregnancy, but women who have experienced the condition have a 40-60 percent chance of developing diabetes in the next five to 10 years (CDC).

  • Autoimmune diseases – Women are more likely to develop several autoimmune diseases that can affect the eyes. These include:
    • Multiple sclerosis (MS)
    • Lupus
    • Rheumatoid arthritis and
    • Sjögren's syndrome.

    MS often causes temporary burning in the eyes or vision loss. Meanwhile, Sjögren's – which dries out moisture-producing glands in the body – causes the most eye-related disease. Of the one million people in the United States with Sjögren's, 90 percent are women.

  • Breast and other cancers – Some cancer treatments can cause:
    • Bleeding in the eye
    • Light sensitivity
    • Cataract and
    • Dry, itchy eyes.

Health and Lifestyle Factors: The Eye Connection

According to a recent survey by Transitions Optical, many more women than men report:

  • Trouble seeing at night
  • Eyestrain/fatigue
  • Light sensitivity and
  • Dry eye.

Some daily habits can make these effects worse, and increase risk for more serious eye problems. It's a good idea to talk to both a primary care physician and an eyecare professional about these habits:

  • Sun exposure – Sunlight can have both short- and long-term impact on vision:
    • Bright light and glare add to eyestrain and fatigue, especially for people who are already sensitive to light, such as diabetics or those taking certain medications.
    • Extended exposure to UV light can lead to several eye diseases, such as cataract and AMD. Damage accumulates over time and can't be reversed, making regular sun protection for both skin and eyes a must, especially for women.

  • Medications – Women take more prescription and non-prescription drugs than men do, and many of these drugs can have serious side effects on the eyes:
    • Anti-anxiety drugs can cause double vision and abnormal eye muscle movements.
    • Anti-depressants can cause light sensitivity.
    • Birth control pills can play a role in the development of certain eye diseases, and can cause blurred vision and dry eye.
    • Oral steroids for asthma can change lens prescription and blur vision, and can also factor into the development of cataract and glaucoma.

  • Smoking – More than one in six adult women in the United States smoke cigarettes (CDC). While smoking is less common among women than men, it is more popular among younger women than older women, putting their future health in jeopardy:
    • Smoking can also lead to the development of cataract, AMD and diabetic retinopathy in women with diabetes.
    • It can also hurt the eye health of a woman's unborn child, and can increase its risk for meningitis and eye disease.

  • Pregnancy – Women who are pregnant may experience changes in lens prescription, worsening of diabetic retinopathy, and blindness in rare cases.

  • Menopause – This condition, a greater concern as the workforce ages with the population, can cause changes in lens prescription, and dry eye.

Obesity, unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, ethnicity and age are other factors to keep in mind.

While some things such as ethnicity and age can't be controlled, women can make a difference by learning about their eye and overall health risks, and what they can do to minimize them.

Vision Care and Vision Wear Solutions

Aside from following a healthy lifestyle overall, women should take several easy recommendations to promote their healthy sight.

Comprehensive eye exams can help ensure that they are seeing properly and keeping a firm watch on their eye health. An eye exam lets an eyecare professional look deep into the eye to detect the first signs of any eye problems. It can also uncover systemic problems such as diabetes, hypertension and even some cancers, allowing for early treatment.

While some eye and health conditions can develop without any or very noticeable symptoms at first, there are several warning signs that should be checked out by an eyecare professional. These include:

  • Decreased vision
  • Eye pain
  • Runny or red eyes
  • Floaters or flashes
  • Halos of light and
  • Double vision.

Today's sight-enhancing vision wear can help women see more comfortably and protect their eyes for the future. For instance, photochromic Transitions® lenses are as clear as regular lenses indoors and at night, but become sunglass dark outdoors, minimizing glare to lessen eyestrain and fatigue. By adjusting to changing light, they can help you see better by improving contrast and countering light sensitivity caused by diabetes and many medications. They also protect the eyes from 100 percent of UVA and UVB rays.

Today's eyeglasses are also available in impact-resistant materials and with anti-reflective coatings and progressive (no-line bifocal) designs.

Make sure you are aware of your risk for eye-related problems, and what you can do to protect your healthy sight.

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