With Women’s Eye Health Month in April and Mother’s Day in May, we’ve got mom, and all of the women in our lives, on our minds. During this season, I want to challenge women everywhere to spring into action and care for their eyes.
Why is it essential for women to care for their eyes?
There are many ocular infections and sight-threatening diseases that have little to no symptoms. More importantly, there are select eye diseases that show a higher incidence in women, as opposed to men. These tendencies are directly related to hormone changes that occur during a woman’s lifetime.
The changing levels of hormones that occur during pregnancy, or later in life, can affect the tear glands that reduce the production of tears drying the eye surface; therefore, leading to dry eye syndrome. Additionally, the surge in hormone levels can cause temporary changes in how clear you see and how comfortable your eyes are. Common complaints during pregnancy include dry eyes, blurry and distorted vision, and difficulty wearing contact lenses. If you are experiencing changes with your vision during pregnancy, it is essential to see your optometrist or ophthalmologist to prevent more serious complications.
In addition to hormone-related eye health issues, it is also known that women live longer than men increasing the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
What is AMD? With more and more Americans entering retirement each year, it is essential to talk about age-related macular degeneration, a common eye condition also known as AMD or “macular degeneration.” This condition is a leading cause of vision loss among people age 60 and older.
AMD affects the back of the eye, known as the retina. The macula is the central area of the retina needed to see sharp details, such as faces, written material, and gives the ability to drive. AMD is when cells within the macula malfunction over time and may even cease to work. AMD can be “dry” or “wet.” The majority of AMD cases are dry, which is the less severe form. In these cases, most patients present without any visual symptoms as the disease can advance so slowly that vision loss does not occur for a very long time. In the more severe wet form of AMD, there has been fluid leakage into the macula and the progression is more rapid and may lead to loss of vision in one or both eyes.
An optometrist or ophthalmologist can help guide in the monitoring of “dry” AMD, usually requiring yearly examinations that include dilation. For the wet form, this usually requires a laser procedure to seal the leakage to prevent further vision loss. AMD by itself does not lead to complete blindness, as it is the central area of vision portion of the retina that is effected; however, patients are usually unaware they have AMD until diagnosed during an annual examination.
How can a woman know if she is at risk for AMD? The highest incidence of AMD occurs after age 60; however, it can occur earlier in life. Family history of AMD poses a higher risk, as does race and lifestyle, with a higher incidence in Caucasians. Poor diet, smoking, and lack of exercise are also risk factors. Studies have shown that regular exercise, not smoking, and a healthy diet, especially one based on nutritious foods such as green leafy vegetables and fish, have been known to help prevent AMD.
What quick tips can help women care for their eyes?
Some of the milder ocular issues women need to be aware of are related to cosmetics, especially eye makeup. These ocular issues are even more important for contact lens wearers. Many cosmetics and moisturizers contain synthetic oils, which can be easily transferred to your contact lenses causing blurry vision, and contact lens deposits that can lead to allergic reactions and overall dryness and discomfort.
Mascara, if not applied and removed properly, can cause a number of issues on the lid margin, where many small oil glands naturally produce essentials components for healthy tears. When mascara/eyeshadows are applied on the lid margin where these oil glands have their openings, they can become blocked causing styes and other eye infections. Lash extending mascara can contain fibers that can irritate the surface of the eye causing a foreign body sensation.
All of these conditions are exacerbated with contact lenses as many types of mascara are waterproof and can stain soft contact lenses. Also, as the oil glands on the lid become blocked, they decrease the production of the essential oils to keep your eyes lubricated and feeling comfortable whether you wear contact lenses or not.
In order to prevent and screen for these ocular issues for women, make routine eye health part of a health and wellness plan. An annual visit to an optometrist or ophthalmologist is an essential investment in overall health.
Here is an infographic that summarizes how women can care for their eyes.