Common Ophthalmic Conditions in Women

The World Health Organization estimates that women account for nearly 65% of the visually-impaired population globally. We checked in with ophthalmologist Dr. Marcus Marcet about which problems women are most at-risk of contracting and why women are more susceptible to these disorders.
 
General rule:

Both women and men should visit their eye doctor if they are over the age of 40 or earlier if they have a family history of eye problems or another medical condition.

 
 

1 – Cataracts

Cataracts are a clouding of the eye’s lens, making vision increasingly difficult. They’re the most common cause of vision degeneration and loss in people over 40. Cataracts are associated with aging, diabetes, individuals taking long-term steroid medications, and UV light exposure.
 
Signs and symptoms
The first sign of cataracts is a slight blurring of your vision, as if looking at the world through a piece of cloudy glass. It’s important to visit your eye doctor if you experience cloudy vision as early intervention may prevent it from further degeneration.
 
Prevention
As they’re often primarily a result of aging, cataracts can be hard to avoid. Several studies have found links between intake of vitamin E (found in spinach, sunflower seeds and almonds) and carotenoids (found in leafy green vegetables) and a lower risk of developing cataracts. Wearing sunglasses can also help to minimize exposure to UV light. If cataracts have begun to develop, some patients will be offered surgery, glasses or other visual aids.
 
 

2 – Glaucoma

Glaucoma is the second most common cause of blindness and is also associated with age and genetics. Individuals with glaucoma have irreversible damage to their optic nerve.
 
Signs and symptoms
Glaucoma often has few signs or symptoms other than increased pressure within the eyeball, only detectable by a physician.
 
Prevention
As glaucoma is age-associated and inherited, it’s important to visit your eye doctor regularly as you age and/or if you have a family history of glaucoma to help detect it as it develops.
 
 

3 – Age-related Macular Degeneration

Age-related macular degeneration is also a common condition, most common in individuals over 50. It occurs when the macula, the area in the eye required for sharp vision of objects directly ahead of you, is damaged. Age and smoking both increase your chances of developing age-related macular degeneration.
 
Signs and symptoms

The early stages of age-related macular degeneration can be difficult to detect. For many people, the first noticeable symptom is blurred vision and straight lines becoming distorted.

Prevention
Like glaucoma and cataracts, it’s difficult to prevent age-related macular degeneration. That being said, early detection can help slow the degeneration of your vision.
 
 

4 – Dry eye syndrome

Dry eye syndrome happens when tear ducts no longer provide adequate tears to lubricate the eyes. Dry eye syndrome occurs more often in women, particularly menopausal or perimenopausal women.
 
Signs and symptoms
Without enough tears or tears that evaporate too quickly, the eyes become itchy, irritated, burn and tear excessively.
 
Prevention
While you cannot avoid dry eye syndrome from developing, there are a few ways you can avoid flare-ups. Stay away from environmental triggers (smoke, computer screens, dry air), use lubricating eye drops, and speak to your physician to see whether any medication you’re on is exacerbating your condition.
 
 

5 – Eyelid and skin aging

While initially mild, aging changes around the eyes can eventually block vision. Although there is equal gender distribution for eyelid problems, over 80% of such surgery patients are women.
 
Signs and symptoms

As the skin covers up the eyelids and lashes, applying eye make-up becomes harder. Later the eyelid skin sags and can block vision, especially in downgaze when reading. The visual defects from excess upper eyelid skin can mimic those seen in glaucoma.

Prevention
Prevention of skin changes around the eyes and face parallels the strategy for cataracts in the eyes, since both are influenced by UV light exposure. Using wide brim hats outdoors, applying daily sunscreen and wearing sunglasses consistently can help minimize sun exposure.
 
 

Why do women have more ophthalmic problems?

There are numerous risk factors for ophthalmic problems, some specific to women and some more general.
  • Many eye issues are age-related. Women live longer so are thus at a higher risk of developing such diseases as glaucoma, cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.
  • Several eye disorders are associated with diabetes, including diabetic retinopathy. Women can develop diabetes at any point in their lives, including gestational diabetes during pregnancy.
  • Smoking is associated with cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.
  • Just as obesity, lack of exercise and poor nutrition affect your general health, these factors are also associated with poor eye-health.
  • High blood pressure can cause damage to the blood vessels in the back of the eye, putting individuals with high blood pressure at risk for vision degeneration.
  • Female hormones can affect eyes throughout a woman’s lifetime.
  • Pregnancy hormones are associated with dry eye syndrome, light sensitivity, eye migraines and high blood pressure.
  • The hormones in contraceptive pills and hormone replacement therapy (usually used during menopause) have potential side effects that may indirectly cause vision problems.
  • Hormonal changes during perimenopause and menopause will cause more than 60% of women to experience dry and itchy eyes.
 
 

Where can I find help in Hong Kong?

Patients can search for ophthalmologists through the Medical Council of Hong Kong, which maintains a registry of General and Specialist doctors.
 
 
Reviewed by Dr. Marcus M. Marcet on 3 July 2018.
Dr. Marcus M. Marcet is a Specialist in Ophthalmology in Hong Kong and a Diplomate of the American Board of Ophthalmology. Dr. Marcet holds Honorary Clinical Assistant Professor appointments at HKU and CUHK. Dr. Marcet’s subspecialty interest is in oculoplastic surgery. He is currently practicing at the Hong Kong Sanatorium & Hospital.
This article was independently written by Healthy Matters and not sponsored. It is informative only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.