Most Americans are probably aware that men die at a younger age than women, get sick more often and are more likely to suffer from heart disease and other chronic conditions. But this familiar narrative can mislead women about some of the disproportionate risks to their health. One area with a large “reverse health gap” is the eyes.
Women’s Burden of Blindness
Women and girls account for two-thirds of the world’s blind. They are much more likely than men to develop age-related macular degeneration. And glaucoma. And cataracts. And dry-eye syndrome. And thyroid eye syndrome.
Though women do live longer, this discrepancy should not be dismissed merely as a byproduct of advanced age. Women also tend to contract eye problems younger than men. Researchers are not certain whether the eye health gap is due to genetics, hormones, or a combination of these and other factors. But whatever the reason, the gap persists throughout women’s lives. They commonly experience vision changes during pregnancy. And they are also four times more vulnerable than men to autoimmune disorders like multiple sclerosis, lupus and Sjogren’s, which can cause blindness.
That is one of the reasons April has been declared Women’s Eye Health and Safety Awareness Month. Especially for women and girls, eye health is about more than keeping one’s glasses prescriptions up to date.
Prevention is Key
Approximately 90% of visual impairment is preventable. As it so often is, information may be the most powerful weapon women can wield to protect their eyes. And there is plenty of it out there.
Not surprisingly, a healthy diet helps. Spring is also the perfect time of year to invest in sunglasses and hats to protect the eyes from the UV rays of the summer sun. Women can also learn more about the safe use of cosmetics like mascara, which can be dangerous when used every day or incorrectly – especially by women using contact lenses.
Women and girls’ best eye-protection habit of all is regular, dilated eye exams – and the awareness of the special risks their eyes face. This Women’s Eye Health and Safety Awareness Month, every woman is encouraged to take up one preventive effort that can help protect her eyes.