Explaining Women’s Higher Risk of Eye Diseases

Two in three cases of vision problems, including blindness, occur in women. Women also have a higher risk of developing certain eye diseases (specifics down below). Says who? The National Eye Institute and the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AOA).

April is Women’s Eye Health and Safety Month. Even if you’re reading this article before or after April, there’s no better time than now to prioritize eye health.


Why Eye Diseases Affect More Women Than Men

Dr. Kimberly Riordan, the Head of the Dry Eye Center at Florida Eye Specialists, says hormones contribute to the onset of various eye conditions, including dry eye syndrome. She highlights the gender disparity in susceptibility to eye diseases, attributing it to hormonal differences between men and women.

closeup photo of a woman's eye

Dr. Riordan points out that women are more likely to develop certain conditions due to hormonal fluctuations, especially as they age and enter menopause. Research by the American Academy of Ophthalmology supports these remarks, revealing that postmenopausal women are twice as likely to have dry eyes than men. Furthermore, hormonal changes during pregnancy can impact vision, manifesting as symptoms like puffy or dry eyes, discomfort, and even vision impairment. Also, since women in the U.S. live longer than men on average, more women have macular degeneration or age-related eye diseases.


Risk Factors for Eye Disease

Given women’s heightened vulnerability to eye diseases, they need to know about the common risk factors. 


1. Dietary Considerations

Diet and nutrition rule most health-related matters, even when it comes to eye health. A paper published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology revealed that individuals with unhealthy diets are three times more prone to developing late-stage age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

Learn about the best and worst foods for your eyes. You can even drink your way to better eye health.


2. Smoking

This habit is a risk factor for multiple health issues, and eye diseases are no exception.

Smoking elevates the amount of free radicals in the eyes. Free radicals are volatile molecules that can accumulate in cells and damage other molecules. In the eyes, free radicals can damage the lipids and proteins, as well as cause deposits to build on the lens, forming a cataract.

Smoking also raises the likelihood of developing macular degeneration. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smokers are twice as vulnerable to AMD and are up to three times more prone to cataracts. Both diseases can lead to vision loss and blindness.


Read Eye-Related Conditions Linked to Smoking for more information.


3. UV Exposure

Prolonged exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun can lead to several ocular conditions, including cataracts, macular degeneration, and photokeratitis (sunburn of the cornea).

In Arizona, where sunlight is abundant year-round, people face a heightened risk of eye damage over time. Wearing sunglasses that provide sufficient UV protection is necessary to mitigate these risks. Quality sunglasses with UV-blocking capabilities shield the eyes from harmful rays, reducing the likelihood of developing UV-related eye diseases. Additionally, wide-brimmed hats can offer supplementary protection by shading the eyes and surrounding areas from direct sunlight.

Regular eye exams in Sun City, AZ, are also crucial, as they allow eye doctors to detect signs of UV-related damage and provide appropriate interventions.

Further reading: How Arizona’s 300+ Days of Sunshine Affects Your Eyes


How Cosmetics Can Harm Your Eyes

Cosmetics, while enhancing beauty, can harm the eyes if not properly used. The delicate tissues around the eyes are susceptible to irritation and infection from cosmetic products.

photo of a woman putting on mascara

One common issue is allergic reactions. Ingredients in makeup, such as fragrances, dyes, and preservatives, can trigger allergies in some individuals, leading to symptoms like redness, itching, swelling, and watery eyes. In addition, expired or contaminated products can harbor bacteria, fungi, or other pathogens, increasing the risk of eye infections such as styes and conjunctivitis.

Improper application techniques, including sharing dirty makeup brushes or applying products too close to the eyes, can introduce contaminants or irritants into the eye area. Mascara and eyeliner, in particular, can inadvertently introduce particles or bacteria into the eyes, potentially causing corneal scratches or infections.

Some cosmetic procedures, like eyelash extensions or permanent makeup, carry their own set of risks, including allergic reactions, infections, and damage to the ocular surface.

To minimize these risks, it’s crucial to practice good hygiene when using cosmetics, including regularly cleaning makeup brushes, avoiding sharing products, and discarding expired items. Choosing hypoallergenic and ophthalmologist-tested products can also help reduce the likelihood of adverse reactions. Lastly, exercise caution when using makeup with sharp or pointed edges, like pencil eyeliners, to prevent eye injuries. Use gentle, controlled movements to reduce the risk of accidentally poking or scratching the eye.

Helpful resource: How to Use Makeup Without Harming Your Eyes


Common Eyes Diseases in Women

closeup photo of a woman's eye

Understanding the common eye conditions affecting women is critical for early detection, prompt treatment, and preserving vision. Below are some eye diseases prevalent in women, along with their causes, symptoms, and management strategies.


1. Dry Eye Syndrome

Dry eye syndrome is common among women, particularly during postmenopause. Hormonal fluctuations partake in its development, leading to symptoms such as dryness, irritation, and blurry vision. Proper management involves artificial tears, lifestyle modifications, and addressing underlying hormonal imbalances.

Read Ways to Prevent Dry Eyes and Different Ways to Treat Chronic Dry Eye for detailed guides to this condition.


2. Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)

Age-related macular degeneration is a leading cause of vision loss in women over 50. Genetics, smoking, and poor nutrition contribute to its onset. AMD damages the macula, impairing central vision. Treatment options may include lifestyle modifications, dietary supplements, anti-VEGF injections, and laser surgery.


3. Cataracts

A cataract, characterized by clouding of the eye’s lens, is alarmingly more common in women. Compared to men, women are 69% more likely to become blind due to this eye disorder.

Hormonal changes, prolonged UV exposure, and smoking increase the risk. Symptoms include a white area in the middle of the eye, blurred vision, light sensitivity, and night blindness. Surgical removal of the cataract is the primary treatment.


4. Glaucoma

Glaucoma encompasses a group of eye conditions characterized by damage to the optic nerve, often stemming from elevated intraocular pressure. Because this eye disease is common in older adults and American women tend to outlive American men, they experience a higher incidence of open-angle and closed-angle glaucoma. Regular eye exams are paramount for early detection and management. Treatment may involve medications, laser therapy, or surgery.


If you have questions or concerns about your vision, or if you are due for your annual eye exam, book an appointment with Arizona Retinal Specialists. Call us at 623-474-3937 or visit our eye clinic in Sun City, AZ. We are home to some of the best ophthalmologists in Phoenix, ensuring you receive top-notch care and expertise for all your eye health needs.


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