Well, for starters:
- Women suffer more than men from visual impairment.
- Women are more likely to develop autoimmune diseases that put eyesight at risk, including lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.
- From age 90 and up, there are 5x living women as men. That means more women will suffer from the 4 leading eye diseases in the U.S.: age-related macular degeneration (AMD), glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and cataracts.
- Women have unique hormonal factors that increase their risk of eye disease.
What makes matters worse is that under 10% of women realize their higher risk of eye disease. In fact, an overwhelming majority — 86% — believe the risk is equal for men and women, while 5% think men’s risk is higher.
These misunderstandings about eye health and safety can have costly consequences. That’s why we want to raise awareness about the unique eye health issues women face.
The good news is that, with a little education and action, 3 out of 4 cases of visual impairment are able to be prevented or treated. We’ve pulled together 9 steps women can take to slow or prevent vision loss to live a happier, healthier life.
Let’s dive in!
1. Schedule a regular eye exam (especially if you have diabetes or gestational diabetes).
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Just like brushing your teeth or showering, scheduling regular eye exams is a proactive step to maintain health and prevent disease. Think of it as a health habit or routine.
By age 40, you should’ve had at least one comprehensive eye exam, if not more, which includes a dilated eye exam. Anytime you experience a change in vision, an exam is strongly recommended. And don’t forget to follow through with any additional recommendations your doctor makes.
2. Learn about your family history of eye disease and tell your doctor.
Oftentimes eye disease is genetic. This includes AMD, cataracts and glaucoma. If you have a family history of any eye disease, you have a higher risk of developing that eye disease — up to 9 times more likely.
Glaucoma, for example, can lead to blindness without treatment. (Are you 65 and older or have a family history of glaucoma? You might qualify for a free eye exam, thanks to EyeCare America.) Taking action should be your number-one priority.
Talk to your family members — grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts, siblings — anyone who can give you some insight into family history, and thus potential risks for your eye health. Then, when you talk to your ophthalmologist, you can get sight-saving, or even life-saving, advice and care.
3. Pregnant or planning for pregnancy? Get an eye exam ASAP.
If you are expecting, or you are planning to become pregnant soon, and you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes, you need a dilated eye exam. It’s totally safe and a really good idea for your health.
“Pregnancy does have an effect on certain women’s visual acuity,” according to Michael P. Nageotte, MD, medical director of the MemorialCare Center for Women at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center and Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach. “Some women note that their ability to read or see things close up is affected by pregnancy.”
These changes are often caused by optic nerve or retina swelling, but don’t be alarmed: they usually clear up once the baby’s been delivered. But better safe than sorry, so make sure to get that eye exam.
Since pregnancy can cause vision changes, it’s best to get new glasses or frames after you give birth.
“A lot of times, patients can go back to their previous prescription after they’ve given birth,” Dr. Nagoette adds. “During pregnancy, they may need to just get some relatively inexpensive reading glasses and that’s all that’s really necessary.”
So whether you are expecting or you plan to get pregnant in the near future, make that appointment for an eye exam.
4. Make sure to eat healthy every day.
A healthy diet can help keep your eyes healthy. For example, a diet that contains 2 weekly servings of fish, as well as foods like dark leafy greens and broccoli, is one way to incorporate the right nutrients into your diet.
And since women have specific nutrient needs that differ from men’s, it’s important to know what is recommended for women in particular.
Some other important nutrients include vitamin C, vitamin E, beta carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin, zinc and omega-3 fatty acids — plus good old-fashioned water.
Surprise, surprise. Water is essential for life, whole body health and, by extension, eye health. But it’s so often undervalued.
According to a survey by Quench, a filtered water system provider, most U.S. employees don’t drink adequate amounts of water. Over three-fourths of respondents said they didn’t drink enough water on a daily basis on the job. The top three reasons included not feeling thirsty, drinking other beverages and just not having time while working.
But the consequences of not consuming enough water are striking. Lower productivity, worse mood, poor memory, lower energy level and lower mental clarity are just a few.
Fight dehydration and feed your body the vital fluid it needs to thrive.
An easy way to make sure these nutrients are in your diet is to aim for 2 weekly servings of fish.
Fish contain higher levels of omega-3 within fish oil. Some of the fish with the optimal levels of omega-3s include:
Nuts and Legumes
If fish isn’t your thing, nuts are another great source of omega-3 fatty acids, not to mention vitamin E, which protects your eyes from age-related damage.
- Brazil nuts
They’re not just for the birds. Take advantage of an excellent source of omega-3s and vitamin E with seeds like chia seeds, flax seeds and hemp seeds.
The C in Vitamin C might as well stand for citrus. Citrus fruits are rich in the stuff. Vitamin C is an antioxidant, which can help prevent age-related damage to your eyes.
Get your vitamin C with lemons, oranges and grapefruits.
Leafy Green Vegetables
Along with fish, leafy greens are some of the best ways to get your necessary nutrients. Spinach, kale and collards are rich in lutein, zeaxanthin and vitamin C.
Do you remember hearing as a kid that carrots made your eyes sparkle? Well, don’t take it too literally, but the Vitamin A in carrots is essential for your vision, particularly in helping your retina absorb light.
The verdict on beta carotene’s function in eye health is still out, but it helps make vitamin A — and gives it the fun orange color — so make sure to snack on carrots when you get a chance.
Another tasty orange food, thanks to beta carotene. Sweet potatoes also are rich in the antioxidant vitamin E.
Beef, chicken breast and pork loin contain zinc, which contributes to better long-term eye health. Zinc is crucial for eye wellness, since it’s contained in the eye itself — in the retina and surrounding vascular tissue.
Out of those meats, though, beef is the richest in zinc. So if you want a meat that can help fight age-related sight loss and macular degeneration, beef is the answer.
Reduce your risk of age-related vision loss with eggs, thanks to the amount of lutein, zeaxanthin, zinc, vitamin C and vitamin E within.
5. Reduce your caffeine and sodium intake.
For many people, coffee is a vital elixir that keeps our eyelids up and our brains on. So it may hurt a little to hear that it might be working against you.
First, many of us who drink coffee on a daily basis don’t remember to keep our water intake up as well, which can lead to dehydration. But also, caffeine itself might be linked to dry eyes, blurred vision, eye twitching and other conditions providing some discomfort. Some even report reduced tear production, which can lead to eye infections or inflammation.
We’re not saying you have to cut out coffee completely. Just be mindful about how much you have on a daily basis to avoid some of those less-than-ideal conditions that could lead to longer-term eye issues.
As for sodium, it can stimulate water retention under your eyes, causing them to appear puffy. This is because the eye tissue is swollen, and that might lead to increased wear and tear of your eyes’ connective tissues.
Once again, we’re not saying eliminate sodium — just think twice before you reach for that canned soup or those fast food french fries. Your eyes will thank you.
6. Consider taking supplements (if your eye doctor approves).
Your best bet is always to start with natural foods to get your nutrients, but sometimes you can round out your intake with dietary supplements and multivitamins.
Ask your doctor how these nutrients might help promote healthy vision:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin E
- Beta carotene
- Folic acid
- Omega-3 essential fatty acids
It’s important to remember that dosages differ for men and women. That’s why you often see separate bottles for men and women. If you are interested in how you might include supplements in your diet for healthier vision, ask your eye doctor — and ask about women-specific doses, since they will change, depending on if you are pregnant or not, or if you are breastfeeding.
Also, remember: Dietary supplements are not cure-alls for vision problems. Your doctor can guide you on if including them in your diet is right for you to potentially promote eye health.
Active, Healthy Lifestyle
7. Stay active for better physical fitness.
Making exercise a part of your regular routine can have a positive effect on your overall fitness, but it can also boost your eye health, too.
Living a sedentary lifestyle with little to no exercise, especially as you age, is correlated with a higher risk of vision problems or even vision loss. For example, Type 2 diabetes is one risk factor for conditions that threaten your sight, like diabetic retinopathy, cataracts and glaucoma.
And let’s be real. Exercise isn’t going to eliminate your need for glasses, but working out at least 3 times a week can make you 70% less likely to develop wet age-related macular degeneration. It can also reduce your chances of glaucoma by 25%!
8. Use proper sun protection.
Put on your most stylish pair of UV-blocking sunglasses — visit Perrysburg Eye Center’s Optical Shop if you need some! — and throw on your favorite brimmed hat. These are simple, straightforward ways to ensure your eyes won’t be inundated with harmful UV rays that can increase your risk of eye disease and vision loss.
9. Quit smoking.
Smoking isn’t good for anybody. It’s the single largest preventable cause of disease in the U.S., with nasty effects on every part of your body, eyes not excluded.
- Smokers are twice as likely to form cataracts.
- Those who smoke will triple their chances of getting AMD compared to nonsmokers; women smokers over the age of 80 are nearly 6 times more likely than nonsmokers of the same age.
- Studies show smokers are over 2 times as likely to develop uveitis, inflammation of your eye’s middle layer, which can cause total vision loss.
Don’t worry that it’s too late to quit. There’s no time like the present. Anyone who quits smoking and develops a healthier lifestyle can reduce their chances of eye disease and sight loss.
Isn’t your eyesight worth it?
Bonus Tip for Eye Safety
Most of the tips so far focus on eye health, but eye safety is just as important for women to ensure their eyes stay in good condition.
If you use contact lenses, be extra careful not to scratch your eyes, and always wash your hands before handling them to prevent infection or irritation.
The same goes for using cosmetics. Many women have makeup techniques figured out by the time they’re an adult. But believe it or not, there are safer ones to make sure you keep your eyes healthy.
Used improperly, cosmetics might cause allergic reactions, infections or injury. Outdated makeup, for example, can grow bacteria, and old applicators can transport it right to your eye. In some cases, you might even scratch your cornea.
Just use care and make sure you’re not endangering your eyes when putting on makeup.
Do You Have Dry Eye Syndrome?Over 3 million women in the U.S. are affected by dry eye syndrome, which causes a lack of lubricating, nourishing tears. You may experience it as itching, burning and irritation, but it’s also causing damage to your eyes’ surface, which can cause vision problems. Make sure you schedule an eye exam and talk to your doctor about the best approach to dealing with dry eye syndrome. There are a few other things to do once you’ve talked to your eye doctor, some of which we’ve already mentioned in previous steps
- Fish oil has been found to potentially reverse dry eye.
- Drinking water fights dehydration, which can reduce dry eyes.
- Smoking, which can cause redness, itchiness and watery eyes, can contribute to dry eyes. Cutting it out is highly recommended.