women-eye-diseaseIn recent years, research in the US has shown that women are far more likely to develop eye problems than men, and this has led to Prevent Blindness America declaring April to be Women’s Eye Health month.

Every year more women than men are diagnosed with eye diseases such as Fuch’s dystrophy, glaucoma, Sjögren’s syndrome, macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy. Women are also far more likely than men to suffer from dry eyes or cataracts.

In its study “Vision Problems in the U.S.”, Prevent Blindness America1 reveals that over 3.6 million Americans aged over 40 suffer from some form of vision impairment and that 2.3 million of these Americans, or two thirds of those who suffer from eye problems, are women.

The reason women tend to suffer from more eye diseases than men was reported as being due to two factors:

  • women tend to live longer than men and so develop more age-related eye problems
  • hormones

Anti Osteoporosis Drugs May Be Linked To Eye Diseases

Another factor that could lead to the increased risk of eye diseases in women was discovered in Canada, where research by the Child and Family Research Institute and the University of British Columbia found that drugs commonly prescribed to treat osteoporosis in post-menopausal women are also linked to eye disease.

According to the study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal2, two inflammatory eye diseases uveitis and scleritis are occurring more in women who have been prescribed these drugs. Uveitis is where the middle layer of the eye, the uvea, gets irritated and swells up. Scleritis is where the white outer wall of the eye gets inflamed. Both these diseases can cause serious vision problems.

What Women Need To Do To Protect Their Sight

Ruth D. Williams, MD, president of the American Academy of Ophthalmology3 commented on the findings of the study by saying: “Of course, both men and women need to take the necessary steps today to keep their eyes healthy in the future. Because women have more risk of vision loss than do men, and because women have different risks from men, we want to be sure they pay heightened attention to saving their sight.”

This is what Prevent Blindness America advises all women to do:

  • Get a regular eye examination.
  • Eat a healthy diet rich in eye friendly minerals such as beta-carotene, zinc, zeaxanthin, lutein and omega-3 essential fatty acids.
  • Stop smoking
  • Wear UV protective sunglasses and brimmed hats to protect your eyes from the sun.
  • Check your family history for eye problems and discuss these with your doctor and optician.

The Experience In New Zealand

The first comprehensive report into vision loss and its economic impact was published in 2010 and was commissioned by Vision 2020 New Zealand and Vision 2020 Australia. Vision 2020 New Zealand is a national body that aims to eliminate avoidable blindness and vision loss by 20204. The report showed conclusively the upward trend in vision loss and blindness by the year 2020, although the focus of the report was not broken down by gender although some statistics were broken down into Maori and non-Maori.

However, the results of a 2001 Disability Survey conducted for the Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind showed a large variation in the figures between women and men, with a considerably larger number of women suffering from vision impairment or blindness compared with men5.

1 http://www.visionproblemsus.org/
2 http://www.cmaj.ca/content/184/8/E431
3 http://www.aao.org/
4 http://www.vision2020.net.nz/
5 Table 2, Cost of Blindness in New Zealand – Appendices. Prepared By Gravitas Research and Strategy Ltd and Market Economics Ltd. www.rnzfb.org.nz/uploads/learn_files/Cost_of_Blindness_Appendices.doc