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Why Are Women More Likely to Develop Eye Diseases?

Posted on April 29th, 2021

Women make up two-thirds of the world’s blind and visually impaired individuals. Girls and women, especially those in low- and middle-income countries, face the impact of uncorrected vision impairment more than any other group.

The causes of eye diseases vary, but it’s not about the Y chromosome (or lack thereof). Overall, the root causes of eye diseases in women are not biological. Reduced access to health care, longer estimated length of life, and factors such as medications and pregnancy all add to the increased likelihood of women developing eye-related diseases. Studies also link oral contraceptives to negative ocular tissue effects, and pregnancy is known to cause symptoms such as dry eye, preeclampsia, and intraocular pressure, to name a few.

Here’s a list of common eye problems seen in women, along with tips to help prevent them: 

Common Eye Diseases in Women

Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Found among people aged 55 and older, AMD causes damage to the macula, a small part of the retina, centred at the inner layer at the back of the eye responsible for high-resolution sight in central vision. A breakdown in the macula most often means that photoreceptor cells (which are responsible for detecting light reflected from an object) are lost. The macula lets us see objects that are directly in front of it. There are about 1.4 million Canadians living with AMD, many of whom have vision loss or are at risk. Women are twice as likely to develop AMD as men.  For more detailed reading, see our article, Age-Related Macular Degeneration: Information, Symptoms and Technology to understand the impact and symptoms of the disease.

Cataracts

Cataracts typically develop in older individuals when the normally clear lens of the eye becomes clouded, causing vision loss. This can potentially lead to blindness if it is left untreated. Minor surgery to remove the clouded lens is quite common and highly successful. According to the National Eye Institute, women are 61 per cent more likely to develop the disease than men. Read more about what is Cataracts in our previous blog. 

Diabetic retinopathy

One of the leading causes of blindness in Canada, diabetic retinopathy is caused by changes in the blood vessels of the retina, contributing to blood vessels in both eyes swelling up and leaking fluid. Diabetic retinopathy commonly develops in women who have diabetes during pregnancy. This includes both women who have had diabetes before their pregnancies and those who develop gestational diabetes during a pregnancy. Women may be at higher risk of developing certain types of diabetes, and therefore diabetic retinopathy, due to hormonal fluctuations and birth control, as there are some studies  that suggest it can raise blood glucose levels. There are also suggested notes that sex makes a difference in male-female differences in diabetes development. Our blog on Diabetic Retinopathy takes you through facts, symptoms and treatments in detail.

Dry eye disease

Dry eye disease develops when the eye doesn’t create enough tears to lubricate the surface of the eye. Although not a cause of blindness, dry eye disease can increase the chances of infection and that may lead to visual impairment. Women suffer from this disease two to three times more than men. Women are more prone to allergies, take birth control and experience more frequent hormonal changes, all associated with dry eye symptoms ranging from mild to severe. Treatment can include artificial tear solutions, ointments, managing symptoms or medications. Take a look at out remedies for dry eye symptoms.

Glaucoma

Glaucoma is considered the leading cause of blindness in Canada. It is a progressive eye disease often related to an increase in internal eye pressure, damaging the optic nerves. If left untreated, this can lead to gradual damage of the optic nerves and permanent vision loss. As glaucoma damages the optic nerve fibres and the disease progresses, blind spots develop. If the entire nerve is destroyed, vision is lost completely.

Women outlive men and according to studies, women outnumber men in glaucoma cases worldwide. It’s highly speculated that gender differences and a longer lifespan, as well as socioeconomic disadvantages, play a key role in the disparity. Learn more about risk factors for Glaucoma, what the different types are.

Refractive errors

Refractive errors can occur when the shape of the eye prevents light from focusing directly on the retina, which is linked to astigmatism, myopia, and hyperopia. The length of the eyeball influences the shape of the cornea and aging of the lens, causing vision issues. Studies suggest that the prevalence of refractive errors is highest in pregnant women, with myopia being the most common, but longer lifespans may also be a cause. Most refractive errors can be corrected with eyeglasses, contact lenses, or surgery. Take a closer look at Nearsightedness, Farsightedness, and Astigmatism.

How to Take Care of Your Eyes as a Woman

Look back at your family history to identify any potential signs of eye disease. Create a list to discuss with your doctor to help rule out any hereditary inclinations. Look into the side effects and potential health complications on the eyes of certain medications and treatments.

There is a ton of research published online that can help patients determine what to expect and what type of warning signs to look out for. Just make sure your information is reputable: Health practitioners and scientific studies are excellent sources.

Prevention in Canada and Early Diagnosis

As with many eye diseases, prevention, and early diagnosis is optimal for successful treatment. In Canada, the estimated real financial cost of vision loss is $15.8 billion, or 1.19 per cent of Canada’s GDP. According to Vision Canada’s 2020 report, there are more than 817,000 Canadians living with vision loss, and 3.43 million facing health diseases such as AMD, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma and cataracts. Women make up more than half of the blind population and are more likely than men to report having a sight-limiting condition.

To diagnose an eye disease in its early stages, women are encouraged to book regular eye exams to monitor their vision status and eye health. It is recommended that pregnant women see their eye doctor regularly to discuss any health or vision changes. Read more about what to expect when expecting in terms of changes in vision and vision health during pregnancy.

Eating a balanced diet rich in vitamins, ensuring proper sun protection and good eye care is crucial to prevention. Maintaining a good understanding of medications, lifestyle and health history is optimal in the prevention and management of eye diseases.

Book an appointment at your local FYidoctors today.