Nearly two-thirds of the 3.4 million Americans currently living with blindness are women. This is due largely in part because women live longer than men, but heredity and some disease factors (auto-immune disorders) also contribute to these numbers. Nearly seventy-five percent of blindness is preventable, however, care often is not sought until it is too late. For this reason it is recommended that everyone, regardless of whether or not they wear corrective eyewear, should have an eye exam by age 40. Having an eye exam is often associated with people who experience vision changes, but there are many other components to this exam and many other signs an eye health professional will be looking for, such as: glaucoma, macular degeneration, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, tumors, and others. These eye problems can often be asymptomatic for a long time, and are the reason it is so important to have an eye exam.
Eye changes can occur during pregnancy, although they are mostly minor. Most commonly, women can experience dry eyes. This is because hormonal changes cause a disruption of the cells responsible for keeping the eye moist (lacrimal acinar cells). Additionally, due to decreased intraocular pressure, changes in the curvature of the cornea can occur during pregnancy, resulting in slight changes in vision (usually nearsightedness, and not requiring corrective eyewear or change in prescription). Pregnancy can also worsen certain existing eye conditions; contact your eye health professional with any concerns.
There are factors other than genetics and lifespan that can affect eye health, including sun exposure, diet, and smoking. Long-term sun exposure has been linked to the development of macular degeneration, cataracts, pterygium (overgrowth of cells in the corner of the eye), and cancer of eye and eyelids. Corneal sunburn can also occur during short-term high UV exposure, such as at the beach or a day of skiing in high sun. A poor diet, lacking in nutrient and vitamin rich fruits and vegetables has been linked to poor eye health and decreased vision. As smoking increases the risk factor for innumerable health issues, it also contributes to poor eye health and the development of many eye problems and diseases, which could potentially lead to blindness or vision loss.
So what can be done to help keep your eyes healthy?
- Sun Protection
It is important to always wear sunglasses during the day. Just as with sunscreen on your body, it is essential for long-term eye health to wear quality protective eye-wear. Most importantly, you want to make sure that you wear a good pair with a UV rating of 100%, and that is recommended for both UVA and UVB rays.
- Eye Exams
As above, everyone should have an eye exam by age 40. If you experience changes in vision, blurred vision, double vision, dryness, or pain, contact an eye health professional.
Visit http://www.w-e-h.org/educational-material.html for more information.
A healthy diet is important for many reasons, but there are specific nutrients and vitamins that are essential to keep the eye healthy, and many foods in which they can be found.
- Citrus, Berries, and Colorful Vegetables such as oranges, grapefruits, lemons, carrots, bell peppers, tomatoes, pumpkin, and cantaloupe. These contain Vitamins A, C, and carotenoids, which are believed to reduce the risk of eye diseases.
- Leafy Greens including, kale, spinach, chard, and collard greens are chock full of Lutein and Zeaxanthin which can help with keeping the eye moist and protecting against macular degeneration and the development of cataracts. Broccoli, peas, and avocados are also good sources of these nutrients.
- Eggs, Nuts, and Fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines, and mackerel are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which also help keep the eye moist and protect against macular degeneration and cataracts.
- Stop Smoking
Among the various reasons to quit smoking, your eye health is one of them. Smoking increases the risk of many eye diseases, and contributes to poor eye
For help with smoking cessation visit smokefree.gov
For more information on Women’s Eye Health and Safety Month and protecting your vision, visit preventblindness.org