Over 3.4 million Americans age 40 and older suffer from visual impairment, and 2.25 million are women. In fact, of the four leading causes of blindness in older Americans- age-related macular degeneration (AMD), cataract, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy, the rate of women’s cases outnumbers the men in all four categories.
Women are more prone than men to AMD in particular, which destroys central vision, with 1 million of the 1.6 million cases diagnosed to females, according to the Vision Problems in the U.S. report by Prevent Blindness America (PBA) and the National Eye Institute. Cataract, a clouding of the eye’s naturally clear lens, affects 20.5 million Americans age 40 and older. Almost 13 million of those cases are women. Glaucoma, a disease that causes the degeneration of cells that make up the optic nerve, continues to plague the population. Close to 60 percent of glaucoma cases are women. Diabetic retinopathy, where blood vessels in the retina can break down, leak or become blocked, affects more than 5.3 million Americans, with women making up over 2.8 million cases. I am very familiar with the affects of glaucoma. I was diagnosed with advanced stage glaucoma in 2003. I lost complete sight in one eye and partial sight in the other.
The total number of eye disease cases is steadily on the rise. The increased longevity of our aging population is one attributable factor. As the life expectancy rises (now at 76 years of age), the natural progression of low vision occurs. And because women on average tend to outlive men, the numbers of visual ailments increases. Obesity, also on the rise in the U.S., is a major contributor to diabetes, therefore increasing the rate of diabetic eye disease. PBA has dedicated April as Women’s Eye Health and Safety month and encourages women to make their own health a priority. Many women may feel they need to put the health of their children and spouses in front of their own, but need to be reminded that they are just as important. Scheduling eye appointments for the entire family, including themselves, is one way to make sure women are getting the care they need.
Besides early detection, Prevent Blindness America offers other ways for women to keep their eyes healthy:
Eat Healthy and Stay Fit- The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that the risk of cataracts can be lowered by eating 3 1/2 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 obesity, leading to 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.