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Lisa Mulcahy

Lisa is an internationally established health writer whose credits include Good Housekeeping, Prevention, Men’s Health, Oprah Daily, Woman’s Day, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Harper’s Bazaar, Esquire, Glamour, The Washington Post, WebMD, Medscape, The Los Angeles Times, Parade, Health, Self, Family Circle and Seventeen. She is the author of eight best-selling books, including The Essentials of Theater.

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Women’s Eye Health 101

Women’s Eye Health 101

Women are at higher risk for eye diseases than men. Here’s what you need to know to keep your eyes healthy.

Your Health

April is Women’s Eye Health and Safety Month.

The facts are hard to read: Women are at greater risk for eye diseases and visual impairments and experience blindness or permanent vision loss more than men. Why? Research suggests that there may be hormonal differences that make women more likely to get eye diseases.

Plus, women in the United States tend to live longer than men, so over time they get more serious eye diseases, specifically age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and glaucoma.

April is Women’s Eye Health and Safety Month, so it’s the perfect time to get informed about protecting your vision. Here’s everything you need to know to keep your eyes in tip-top shape.

What raises your risk for eye diseases?

According to the National Eye Institute, your chances of developing eye disease increase if you have a family history of eye disease, have certain medical conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes or obesity, and are Black, Hispanic or Native American.

What does nearsighted mean?

Myopia is the official term for being nearsighted. That’s when close-up objects look clear but far away objects are blurry. “This happens when the shape of your eye is irregular — too steeply curved or longer than normal — which prevents light from bending properly when entering the eye. Light is aimed in front of your retina instead of on your retina, causing blurry vision,” said Usiwoman Abugo, M.D., spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology and an ophthalmologist.

Eyeglasses and contact lenses are the most common ways to correct nearsightedness. Other possible treatments include surgery, such as LASIK.

What does farsighted mean?

Farsightedness is technically called presbyopia, and that’s when you can’t clearly see things that are close. “This happens when the lens of the eye — which helps your eye focus on objects — becomes more rigid, a common occurrence as we age. That’s why you may start to notice you have to hold reading materials farther away, starting at around age 40,” Abugo said.

The corrective options for farsightedness are the same as for nearsightedness: reading glasses, contact lenses or surgery.

What is astigmatism?

Astigmatism happens when the cornea or lens of your eye is misshapen. Symptoms include blurry vision, having trouble seeing at night, squinting to see and headaches.

Eye glasses, contacts or surgery can fix the problem.

What types of eye doctors are there?

There are two types of eye doctors and which kind you see depends on your needs. Ophthalmologists perform medical and surgical treatments for eye conditions. Optometrists examine, diagnose and treat patients' eyes. “Ophthalmologists differ from optometrists in their levels of training and in what they can diagnose and treat,” Abugo said. “Both ophthalmologists and optometrists can prescribe and fit you for eyeglasses or contact lenses to correct vision problems. Being medical doctors, ophthalmologists are also specially trained to diagnose and treat eye diseases and perform eye surgery.”

Opticians are technicians who fit eyeglasses, contact lenses and other vision-correcting devices.

How often do you need to see the eye doctor?

“A common misconception is that you only need to get your eyes checked if you notice a change in your vision,” Abugo said. “That’s not true. Many blinding eye diseases begin without any noticeable symptoms at all.”

For adults without risk factors, the American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends a full eye exam at age 40. Mayo Clinic also recommends you get an eye exam every year or two if you’re 60 or older, and get frequent checks if you wear glasses or contacts, have a family history of eye disease, have a chronic disease that puts you at risk, or if you take medication that can cause side effects involving your vision.

What are other ways to protect your vision?

“Preventive care for a lifetime of healthy eyes includes eating a healthy diet full of leafy greens and vitamin-rich foods (the Mediterranean diet is recommended),” Abugo said. “Also, exercising regularly, not smoking, wearing 100% UV-blocking sunglasses whenever you’re outdoors and knowing your family history to discuss with your doctor.”

You also want to make sure you stay on top of any health conditions that put your vision at risk, like diabetes and high blood pressure. In addition, watch out for the following symptoms that could indicate eye disease, and mean you should seek medical attention immediately:

  • Decreased vision
  • A curtain or veil coming over your sight
  • Trouble seeing on one side
  • Sudden flashes in your vision with “spider webs” (floaters)
  • Double vision

Bottom line: Pay attention to changes in your vision, and tell your healthcare provider right away if you experience anything unusual. An early diagnosis can help save your sight.

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