Women and vision: Keeping an eye on your health

Woman looking into son's eyes outside

If you’re female, you’re more likely to develop several common, yet serious, eye diseases as compared to your male counterparts. But you have more control over the outcome than you may think. A healthy lifestyle and routine eye exams may give your eyes a fighting chance.

Age-related macular degeneration

Women live longer than men, 5-7 years on average. That longevity increases your likelihood of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of vision loss in people over age 40 in the US.2 This slow-moving disease of the retina blurs the sharp, central vision you need to see fine details and perform activities that require “straight-ahead” vision, like reading and driving.

Common symptoms

At its earliest stage, AMD is only noticeable to eye care professionals. As the disease progresses, you’ll notice blurring of your central vision (wet AMD), or you’ll notice that straight lines appear to be curved or distorted (dry AMD).

Treatment

The earlier AMD is diagnosed and treated, the better the results. Laser therapy to seal off leaking blood vessels can slow the onset of vision loss in cases of wet AMD. No effective treatment currently exists for dry AMD.3

Although your risk of AMD is higher if a family member has it, researchers believe your lifestyle also makes a difference. You may be able to avoid AMD by:4

  • Avoiding smoking
  • Exercising regularly
  • Maintaining normal blood pressure and cholesterol levels
  • Eating a healthy diet rich in green, leafy vegetables and fish

Glaucoma

Glaucoma is a sneaky disease that slowly affects the cells that make up your optic nerve, beginning with your peripheral vision. It can steal your ability to drive or do other activities that require awareness of objects to your left and right.

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, women who enter menopause at an earlier-than-average age have a higher risk of developing glaucoma later in life.5 Your risk also increases if you:6

  • Are age 60 or older
  • Are African American
  • Have a family history of glaucoma
  • Have diabetes, heart disease or hypertension
  • Have used steroids for prolonged periods
  • Have injured your eye

Common symptoms

Chronic open angle glaucoma (COAG) is responsible for most cases of glaucoma. In the early stages of the disease, there are often no warning signs.7 While the disease progresses over time, it can usually be treated effectively with medication, which is why it’s so important to keep a date for your annual eye exam.

Treatment

When caught early, most cases can be controlled and vision loss slowed or halted with medication, laser treatments and/or surgery. However, without treatment, glaucoma can lead to blindness.9

Cataracts

Think of a cataract like a cloud on the lens of your eye. They are caused by aging cells that clump together, turn yellow and eventually block some of the light, making it difficult to see clearly.

Although cataracts are very common in older people, they are more prevalent in women than men. In 2010, 61 % of Americans with cataracts were women compared to 39 % of men.10

Common symptoms

Cataracts can be small at first, but eventually grow. Some watch-outs include:11

  • Clouded, blurred or dim vision
  • Increasing difficulty with vision at night
  • Sensitivity to light and glare
  • Double vision in a single eye

Treatment

An annual eye exam can help detect cataracts before they steal your vision. In their early stages, cataracts are treated with prescriptive lenses, magnification and improved lighting. As they get bigger, they can be removed surgically.

Dry eye disease

If you don’t have enough tears to lubricate your eyes, you may be suffering from dry eye disease. The persistent pain, itching and burning usually worsens as the day goes on. It’s common among middle-aged and older adults, and it’s especially common among women. Hormone replacement therapy seems to make it worse; in fact, taking estrogen increases the risk by 70%.12 Artificial tears are the primary treatment, but they don’t reverse the condition. Ask your eye care professional for other treatment ideas.

Have questions about your vision? Find an eye doctor near you and schedule an eye exam today.


  1. Women at higher risk than men for most eye diseases. Prevent Blindness, https://www.preventblindness.org/women-higher-risk-men-most-eye-diseases, Accessed February 2018.
  2. Women’s eye health. Discovery Eye Foundation, http://discoveryeye.org/2016/03/ . Accessed October 2018.
  3. Women’s eye health. Discovery Eye Foundation. http://discoveryeye.org/2016/03/. Accessed October 2018.
  4. Facts about age-related macular degeneration. National Eye Institute. https://nei.nih.gov/health/maculardegen/armd_facts. Accessed February 2018.
  5. Glaucoma in women: The estrogen connection. American Academy of Ophthalmology, https://www.aao.org/eyenet/article/glaucoma-in-women-estrogen-connection-2. Accessed February 2018.
  6. American Optometric Association. https://www.aoa.org/patients-and-public/eye-and-vision-problems/glossary-of-eye-and-vision-conditions/glaucoma. Accessed February 2018.
  7. What are the symptoms of Glaucoma? American Academy of Ophthalmology. https://www.aao.org/eye-health/diseases/glaucoma-symptoms. Accessed February 2018.
  8. Treatment of chronic open angle glaucoma. Glaucoma: Diagnosis and management of Chronic Open Angle Glaucoma and Ocular Hypertension, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK61905/. Accessed October 2018.
  9. Women’s eye health. Discovery Eye Foundation. http://discoveryeye.org/2016/03/. Accessed October 2018.
  10. Cataracts defined. National Eye Institute, https://nei.nih.gov/eyedata/cataract#4. Accessed October 2018.
  11. What are cataracts? American Academy of Ophthalmology, https://www.aao.org/eye-health/diseases/what-are-cataracts. Accessed February2018.
  12. Dry eye disease: What is dry eye disease? Women’s Eye Health.org, http://www.w-e-h.org/dry-eye-disease.html. Accessed February 2018.