Women at Higher-Risk than Men for Sight-Threatening Eye Diseases And Conditions

Women Must Make Eye Health a Priority Today
in Order to Preserve Vision for the Future
 
Columbus, OH (April 5, 2013)– Among the many differences between men and women’s health, women are more susceptible to vision impairment. Of the 4.1 million Americans ages 40 and older who are visually impaired or blind, 2.6 million are women. And, according to a recent study by Prevent Blindness America, more women than men have age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy, the four leading eye diseases in the country.
 
According to the National Eye Institute, the causes are primarily due to longevity as well as hormonal factors.  Prevent Blindness Ohio has designated April as Women’s Eye Health and Safety Month in an effort to educate women about the steps they can take today to help preserve vision in the future.
 
“The first thing every woman should do, especially those ages 40 and older, is get a dilated eye exam," said Sherry Williams, President & CEO of Prevent Blindness Ohio.  "Through early detection and treatment, vision loss can be lessened.”
 
Prevent Blindness Ohio  also recommends a healthy diet, quitting smoking, taking supplements (as approved by a medical professional), consistently wearing UV-blocking sunglasses with a brimmed hat outdoors and learning of any family history of eye disease.
 
If anyone is experiencing any of the following symptoms, an appointment with an eye care professional should be made immediately:
  • Unusual trouble adjusting to dark rooms;
  • Difficulty focusing on near or distant objects;
  • Squinting or blinking due to unusual sensitivity to light or glare;
  • Change in color of iris;
  • Red-rimmed, encrusted or swollen lids;
  • Recurrent pain in or around eyes;
  • Double vision;
  • Dark spot at the center of viewing;
  • Lines and edges appear distorted or wavy;
  • Excess tearing or "watery eyes";
  • Dry eyes with itching or burning; and seeing spots, ghost-like images.
For more information on women’s eye health, including fact sheets on eye diseases, pregnancy and vision, and the safe use of cosmetics, please contact Prevent Blindness Ohio at (800) 301-2020 or visit www.pbohio.org.
 
About Prevent Blindness Ohio
Prevent Blindness Ohio, founded in 1957, is Ohio’s leading volunteer nonprofit public health organization dedicated to prevent blindness and preserve sight. We serve all 88 Ohio counties, providing direct services to more than 800,000 Ohioans annually and educating millions of consumers about what they can do to protect and preserve their precious gift of sight. Prevent Blindness Ohio is an affiliate of Prevent Blindness America, the country’s second-oldest national voluntary health organization. For more information or to make a donation call 800-301-2020 or visit us on the web at pbohio.org.
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WOMEN’S EYE HEALTH & SAFETY TALKING POINTS
 
GENERAL WOMEN’S EYE HEALTH
  • Of the 3.6 million Americans age 40 and older who are visually impaired, 2.3 million are women.
  • Of the four leading eye diseases, women outnumber men in every category*:                                                          
Eye Disease
Total Number of Cases in America
Total Number of Women’s Cases in Ohio
Age-related Macular Degeneration
2,074,761
58,299
Cataract
22,325,926
604,334
Glaucoma
2,290,846
65,278
Diabetic Retinopathy
4,482,885
151,486
*Based on data from the 2008 updated version of the Vision Problems in the U.S. report from Prevent Blindness America and the National Eye Institute.
 
  • According to the Women’s Eye Health Task Force, risk factors for premature death due to heart disease or cancer are the same as those for blindness and vision impairment. These factors include, smoking; excess weight; imbalanced, unhealthy diet; lack of exercise and exposure to UV rays.
  • Prevent Blindness America offers these tips to help lower the incidence of eye diseases in women:
Eat Healthy and Stay Fit- The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that the risk of cataracts can be lowered by eating 3½ servings of fruits or vegetables a day.  Green leafy vegetables especially contain loads of nutrients for the eye.  Pairing a healthy diet with exercise will reduce the risk of diabetes.
Take Supplements- Antioxidants have been shown to actually reduce the progression of some eye illnesses, including AMD.  Vitamin A, riboflavin (vitamin B2), vitamin C and zinc are good sources to help maintain eye health.
Quit Smoking- Besides the typically known side effects of smoking including cancer, lung disease, etc., it also increases the risk for eye diseases.
Wear UV Eye Protection- When venturing outdoors,Prevent Blindness America recommends wearing brimmed hats in conjunction with UV-rated sunglasses (labeled: absorbs 99-100 percent of UV-A and UV-B rays).  UV rays are extremely dangerous for the eyes.      
Know Your Family History- Genetics plays a key role in eye disease.  Research your family’s health history and notify your eye care professional of any eye diseases that run in the family.
 
HORMONE REPLACEMENT THERAPY (HRT) AND CATARACTS
  • According to the “Hormone Replacement Therapy in Relation to Risk of Cataract Extraction: A Prospective Study of Women” study published in the March 2010 issue of Ophthalmology, of the than 30,000 postmenopausal Swedish women studied who were using or had used HRT had significantly higher rates of cataract removal compared with women who had never used HRT.
  • More than 4,300 cataract removal surgeries were performed in participants between 1997 and 2005. The risk for cataract removal was increased by 14 percent in women who had ever used HRT and by 18 percent in current HRT users, compared with women who never used HRT. Longer duration of HRT use correlated with increased risk. Current HRT users who also reported having more than one alcoholic drink per day had 42 percent increased risk compared with women who used neither HRT nor alcohol. Smoking status did not significantly affect risk. Data were adjusted for exposure to external (exogenous) estrogens such as birth control pills, as well as reproductive and other health factors.
  • According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology:
“Earlier large HRT and cataract risk studies in the United States, Australia and Europe reported mixed results; importantly, some of these studies included women who were premenopausal and so possibly protected by endogenous estrogen. Results of the Swedish study may have been impacted by factors unique to this population: for example, nearly all participating women shared the same ethnicity, and all had equal access to care. The study did not identify type of HRT, type of cataract, or measure exposure to excess sunlight, a risk factor for cataract, although unlikely to impact residents of northern Europe.”
 
DRY EYE SYNDROME
  • Dry eye occurs when the eye does not produce tears properly, or when the tears are not of the correct consistency and evaporate too quickly. In addition, inflammation of the surface of the eye may occur along with dry eye. If left untreated, this condition can lead to pain, ulcers, or scars on the cornea, and some loss of vision. However, permanent loss of vision from dry eye is uncommon. (NEI)
 
Dry Eye Symptoms include:
  • stinging or burning of the eye
  • a sandy or gritty feeling as if something is in the eye
  • episodes of excess tears following very dry eye periods
  • a stringy discharge from the eye
  • pain and redness of the eye
  • episodes of blurred vision
  • heavy eyelids
  • inability to cry when emotionally stressed
  • uncomfortable contact lenses
  • decreased tolerance of reading, working on the computer, or any activity that requires  sustained visual attention
  • eye fatigue
 
  • About 6 million women and 3 million men have moderate to severe symptoms of dry eye syndrome.  Another 20-30 million people have mild cases of the disease.  It affects women two to three times more than men. (Healthywomen.org)
  • According to the National Eye Institute, women who are on hormone replacement therapy are more likely to experience symptoms.  Women taking only estrogen are 70 percent more likely to experience Dry Eye, and those taking estrogen and progesterone have a 30 percent increased risk of developing the condition.
  • Women who are pregnant, on certain types of birth control, or experiencing menopause also have increased rates of Dry Eye. (AOA)
  • Menopause brings dry eyes because estrogen controls the tear glands, so a reduction in estrogen causes a reduction in tears. (Corneal Research Laboratory, University of Rochester).
  • In rare cases, dry eye can become serious – leading to eye infections or a damaged cornea. That is why it is important to visit an eye care professional if you think you have dry eye.
  • Using a humidifier, avoiding cigarette smoke, and using artificial tears and/or ointments can help relieve discomfort.
 
PREGNANCY
  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the total number of U.S. births for 2005 was 4,140,419.  The percentage of babies born at low-birth weight has increased more than 20 percent since the mid-1980’s.
  • The American Academy of Ophthalmology states that women with diabetes should also be examined if considering pregnancy, early in the first trimester and every 1 to 3 months during pregnancy because diabetic retinopathy can progress much more rapidly during pregnancy.  The American Optometric Association also recommends an examination 6−8 weeks postpartum.
  • Infants whose mothers regularly drink alcohol during pregnancy may show poor vision by the age of 6 months according to a study published in the Journal of Pediatrics.  ("Effects of Prenatal Alcohol Exposure on Infant Visual Acuity" by R. Colin Carter, MD, et al, Journal of Pediatrics, Oct. 2005).
      The study also found:
  • Nearly 17 percent of the babies had fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), and of these, 27 percent had vision test scores near the bottom for their age -- compared with 9 percent of babies without FAS.
  • Ten babies who were not diagnosed with FAS also showed poor vision and, in many of these cases, their mothers admitted to heavy drinking during pregnancy.
  • Infants born to mothers aged 30 and older who drank during pregnancy were at greater risk for poor visual acuity, although the older mothers did not drink larger quantities of alcohol than younger mothers.
 
Possible vision changes during pregnancy include:
Refractive Changes
During pregnancy, changes in hormone levels can alter the strength you need in your eyeglasses or contact lenses. Though a slight change is usually nothing to worry about, it’s a good idea to discuss any vision changes with an eye doctor who can help you determine whether or not to update your prescription. The doctor may simply advise you to wait a few weeks after delivery before making a change in your prescription.
Puffy Eyelids
Puffiness around the eyes is another common side effect of certain hormonal changes women experience during pregnancy. Puffy eyelids may interfere with peripheral vision. As a rule of thumb, don’t skimp on your water intake and stick to a moderate diet low in sodium and caffeine. These healthy habits can help limit water retention and boost your overall comfort.
Migraine Headaches
Migraine headaches are very common in pregnant women and may cause sensitivity to light.  Talk to your doctor before taking any migraine medications.  
Diabetes
There is an increased risk of developing diabetes during pregnancy. Blurred vision may indicate an elevation of blood sugar levels. It is important for women to follow good prenatal care and consult their doctor about any unusual symptoms.
Pregnancy-induced Hypertension (PIH)
Pregnant women who notice their vision is blurred and see spots in front of the eyes may have PIH.  PIH generally resolves itself after delivery, but it is imperative to work with your doctor to minimize complications. (Better Vision Institute).
Implications for Unborn Child
Cigarette smoking, alcohol and drug use pose enormous health risks to the unborn child, but vision disorders that can result are less publicized. These exposures, as well as other problems that lead to preterm or low-birth weight infants, increase the risk of amblyopia, strabismus (crossed eyes) and significant refractive errors.
 
 
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