Recently, comedienne Roseanne Barr announced that she has macular degeneration and glaucoma, and is losing her vision.
Unfortunately, this is an all too common occurrence.
A recent study by Prevent Blindness America showed that women are at higher risk than men for most eye diseases that cause vision loss, including glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, and diabetic eye disease, among others.
Of the 20.6 million Americans 18 and older who experienced vision loss in 2014, 12.4 million (60.1 percent) were women, according to the American Foundation for the Blind. One reason for this is that diseases of the eye increase with age, and women tend to outlive men. Women are also more likely to suffer from dry eye and to have hormonal-related changes in vision.
I’d like to encourage women to consider the following eye health and safety tips. Ask any of my patients: vision loss is life-changing.
- Get a comprehensive eye exam. For people who wear contacts or glasses, I recommend an eye exam every 1 to 2 years. If you don’t wear contacts or glasses, you should get an eye exam at age 40, and by age 50, you should be getting an eye exam every year as eye diseases are more common with age. Women with a family history of eye disease or who have certain diseases themselves, especially diabetes or autoimmune disease, should be going even earlier.
- Take contact lens hygiene seriously. If you wear dailies, change them daily. If you wear bi-weekly contacts, change them bi-weekly. And use appropriate cleaning solutions. Wearing contacts too long, and especially sleeping in them, can cause blood vessels in the eyes to grow into the cornea and can also lead to an increased risk of infection. Both infections and contact lens over use may lead to permanent scarring in the eye. Don’t be afraid to wear eyeglasses. With so many styles to choose from these days, there’s no excuse for not giving your eyes a rest.
- Protect your eyes when doing those DIY home projects. Women are as prone to eye injuries from DIY projects as men. Protect your eyes with safety goggles. One little slip-up could scratch your cornea or lacerate the entire surface of your eye, causing permanent damage. You may need surgery, could lose your vision, or, worst case, lose your eye entirely. If your kids are helping out, they should wear protective eyewear too.
- Be aware of vision changes during pregnancy. Women experience hormonal changes during pregnancy, some of which can affect eyesight and your prescription. Also, if you are diabetic and planning to become pregnant or are pregnant, it’s a good idea to get a complete eye exam to check for diabetic eye disease, including diabetic retinopathy. You may need to be monitored more closely throughout your pregnancy.
- Tell your eye doctor what medications you are taking. Medicines can affect your vision. Antidepressants, allergy medicines, immunosuppressives and a host of other medications can lead to changes in the eye. If you’ve started taking a new medication and your vision changes, make an appointment with your eye doctor.
- Treat dry eye properly. If you have dry eye, try a humidifier at home, use preservative-free eye drops and don’t forget to blink, especially when reading or using the computer.If you have severe dry eye, talk to your eye doctor – you may need to get a prescription eye drop, or even plugs to block drainage.
- Quit smoking. Smoking has been associated with cataracts, age-related macular degeneration and corneal diseases.
- Wear sunglasses! This one goes without saying. Exposure to sunlight causes UV damage which can cause cataracts or tumors.
- Eat a balanced diet and exercise. Eat green leafy veggies, oily fish and fruit. These contain vitamins, minerals and fatty acids that can slow down the progression of some eye diseases. But make sure to consult your doctor about any supplements.
If you have blurry vision, eye pain or loss of vision, make an appointment with an eye doctor ASAP.
Early detection is key with all eye diseases. The sooner we know what’s going on, the better we can diagnose and treat your eyes.
For more information on eye diseases and how to take better care of your eyes, go to CaseyEye.com.
Afshan Nanji, M.D., M.P.H., is an Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology at Casey Eye Institute.