April was designated Women’s Eye Health and Safety Month due to recent increased attention on the fact that more women than men have vision impairment. The many changes women go through, among other factors, can contribute to this.
Studies indicate that women generally live longer than men. This makes women more likely to develop age-related eye diseases, such as cataracts, macular degeneration and glaucoma.
Dry eye syndrome may be caused by menopause and is also linked to autoimmune diseases, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren’s syndrome and multiple sclerosis.
Birth control and HRT
Birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy can lead to vascular side effects, such as blood clots and stroke, which could cause vision problems or vision loss. Birth control pills can also cause dry eye syndrome. Women on HRT are at increased risk for cataracts.
Pregnancy may cause dry eyes and migraines with visual disturbances. Diabetic retinopathy can worsen during pregnancy.
Chemotherapy and radiation may have ocular side effects. Certain cancer medications may also cause vision problems or vision loss. It is important to note that any treatment or medication will have benefits and risks.
Smoking has also been linked to eye diseases, such as macular degeneration and cataracts.
Tips for healthy eyes
Have regular eye exams.
Eat a healthy well-balanced diet. Include foods with beta carotene, zinc and Omega-3 fatty acids.
Always inform your eye doctor of your family medical history.
Protect your eyes from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Wear 100 percent UV protective sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat. UV rays contribute to cataracts and macular degeneration.
Use cosmetics correctly. Do not use old eye makeup; dispose of opened eye makeup every three months. Sharing makeup is not recommended.
Be cautious when using household cleaners. Shield your eyes and wash your hands well after handling cleaners. Always use safety goggles when doing handiwork.
Contact lens wearer should practice good hygiene to avoid sight-threatening eye infections. Always wash and dry your hands before handling your contact lenses. Clean and store them with the cleaner your eye doctor has recommended. It is also important to clean or replace your contact lens cases regularly. Do not sleep with your contacts in or over-wear your lenses. Replace your contacts as recommended by your eye doctor.
Awareness is the first step to looking after your eye and vision health. Women should keep themselves informed to protect their eyes. There are many resources available, including SeeJaneSee.org and WomensEyeHealth.org.
Dr. Natalie Da Silva is a practicing optometrist based in the Cayman Islands.