Women have many things to keep in mind when considering eye health. The complexity of the female body and the likelihood of women to live longer make women more apt then their male counterparts to develop several ocular diseases. In fact, an estimated two-thirds of visual impairment and blindness occurs in women. The following information will serve as a primer to education on several of the more common of these diseases.
Macular degeneration, a progressive loss of central vision, affects women more than men, with caucasian women being at greatest risk. Risk of development increases with smoking and if a family member has the disease. Recent studies have suggested that a diet rich in antioxidants (spinach, blueberries, tomatoes) may be of benefit in slowing progression of the disease, although benefits may be minimal. Early detection via annual eye examinations are key to good outcomes, and women at high risk should wear sunglasses when outdoors to block damaging short light waves
Lack of oxygen to tissues of the eye and wearing-out of blood vessels to the eye in persons with diabetes may lead to areas of bleeding within the eye and loss of vision in patches (diabetic retinopathy). Furthermore, diabetics may also experience early cataract development, causing cloudy vision. With the incidence of diabetes on the rise, diabetic women should be aware that they are at greater risk for development of retonopathies and cataracts, and are encouraged to tightly control blood-sugar levels with medications and diet as necessary.
Hyper- and hypothyroidism are conditions where the body attacks thyroid-hormone receptors. The eyes are commonly involved because the muscles of the eyes have large amounts of these receptors. Ocular signs include proptosis (bulging of the eyes forward), inability to close the eyelids completely, dryness of the eyes, and possible vision constriction and loss in the later stages of the disease. Even persons on thyroid hormone replacement therapy (ie synthroid), or persons who have had a thyroidectomy are susceptible to these ocular complications
Hormonal changes and fluctuations during pregnancy may cause changes in eye prescription (refractive error). These changes may occur only during the length of the pregnancy, or may remain permanently after delivery. Gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia are two complications of pregnancy that can potentially lead to loss of vision if complications arise and treatment is delayed.
More common in persons of northern European decent (that’s many of us here in the Midwest) and more common among women, rosacea is characterized by redness and flushing of the cheeks, nose, forehead, and chin. Red bumps and visible blood vessels on the face may also be present. Ocular affects include dry, gritty, red eyes. Although there is no cure for the condition, flare-ups are usually easily controlled with a combination of topical and oral medications.
DRY EYE DISEASE
Dry eye is a chronic insufficiency in the amount of moisture and lubrication produced by the glands of the eyelids. Syptoms include red, irritated eyes and “burning sensations”. Common causes include bacterial infection of these glands, clogging of the glands by skin oils or makeup, or decreased fluid secretions by the body secondary to medications, thyroid issues, rheumatoid arthritis, or Sjogren’s syndrome. More commonly affects women, due to make-up use and hormonal changes occurring postmenopausally.