Around the world, about two-third of blindness and visual impairment occur in women. More than three-fourth of this is believed to be preventable or correctable, and four-fifth of blindness and visual impairment occur in developing countries. Women in India are disproportionately affected by vision problems for several reasons, and treatment strategies for eye conditions often need to be different in women.
First, women may not seek access to eye care in India, as they often may not pay attention to themselves. Anyone over the age of 45 should get an annual eye exam, as should anyone with diabetes or hypertension. Second, when an elderly family member has a blinding condition, it is usually the youngest female relative—wife, daughter, granddaughter or niece—who must stay home to take care of them, keeping them out of school or the workplace. Furthermore, if multiple family members have eye problems, the female relative is often the last to seek eye care.
With respect to individual eye problems, several conditions are more common in women than in men:
Dry eye is more common in post-menopausal women owing to hormonal changes. Antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs that cause dry eye are more commonly prescribed to women. Sometimes, hormone eyedrops with oestrogen or progesterone can be of help, as can omega-3 fatty acid supplements or through diet, having humidifiers and taking breaks from TV or computer screens.
Cataracts are treated by removal of the natural lens in the eye that has turned cloudy, and replacing it with an intraocular lens. A patient’s lifestyle and visual needs that include reading, cooking, computer work or knitting also come into play. As women typically have shorter arms than men, they may need lens implants that give stronger intermediate or near correction, affecting the choice of lens that is best for them. Women should not feel shy in explaining to their doctor what activities and visual distances are most important to them and their lifestyle.
Glaucoma is often worsened by high blood pressure. Many women are instructed to take blood pressure medicine at night to help with sleep or avoid low blood pressure during the day. But unfortunately, this is bad for glaucoma, as lowering blood pressure at night when patients are flat reduces blood flow to the optic nerve, making glaucoma worse. If someone has glaucoma and high blood pressure, it would be better to take blood pressure medication in the morning.
Macular degeneration is more common in women. This is owing to many factors, including the fact that Vitamin D deficiency is more common in women, and is associated with a higher risk of macular degeneration. This elevated risk is likely owing to higher risk of inflammation and abnormal blood vessel formation, both of which are related to low Vitamin D. Calcium, prescribed for osteoporosis, which is more common in women, if taken at doses of more than 800mg/day can also increase risk of macular degeneration. On the other side, vitamin supplements with folic acid, Vitamin B12 and Vitamin B6 have been found to be helpful in slowing the onset of macular degeneration, as per the Women’s Antioxidant Study.
Remember the following points:
* Everyone over the age of 45 should get an annual eye exam, and anyone with diabetes or hypertension should get one as well.
* The risk factors for premature death owing to heart disease or cancer are the same as those for blindness and vision impairment. These factors include smoking, excess weight, unhealthy diet, lack of exercise and exposure to UV rays.
* Do you know your family health history? Is your family prone to certain eye diseases such as glaucoma or macular degeneration? If so, remember to get regular eye exams as, if found early, many sight-threatening diseases can be treated.
* Make eye care a regular part of your routine and that of your family. Learn when to visit an eye doctor, what steps to take to prevent eye injury, when and how to get eyeglasses, how your health affects your eyes, and what to expect from your eyes as they age.
Learn more about protecting your vision at www.womenseyehealth.org.
The views expressed here are strictly those of the author and the university takes no position on these.