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What vision issues are unique to women?

group of women in white t-shirts wearing eyeglasses

Women’s eyes are more at risk for potential problems, including thyroid eye disease, vision loss, blurry vision during pregnancy, and eye infections brought on by poor makeup hygiene.

And because women live longer than men, odds are women will have eye conditions such as cataracts, glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration.

Men are from Mars, and women are from Venus, they used to say, and when it comes to vision issues, that definitely applies.

Female vision can be impacted by issues men don’t have to worry about, including the hormonal surges of pregnancy, the profound shifts of menopause and autoimmune diseases (78% of those affected by autoimmune issues are women).

So what's your best protection from vision issues that are are unique or more common among women? Regular eye exams can detect vision issues early.

“The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that healthy women have their eyes checked every other year until they reach age 60,” says optometrist Caroline Beesley Pate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “After 60, an annual exam is recommended.”

Meanwhile, here are answers to the most common questions women ask about their vision:

Can hormones affect my vision?

Hormones are chemical messengers that regulate everything from sleep to mood to reproduction, and they can have a profound impact on a woman’s vision throughout her life.

Female hormones like estrogen keep the cornea — the eye's clear, protective outer layer — flexible so it can focus light better. When estrogen drops, the eye’s oil glands — called meibomian glands — produce less lubrication, which can lead to dry eyes and blurry vision.

An overactive thyroid gland (leading to overproduction of the thyroid hormone) is most commonly caused by Graves' disease, an autoimmune disorder that affects more women than men.

An overactive thyroid can cause numerous issues for the eyes, such as bulging, redness and inflammation of the conjunctiva (the white part of the eye), dry eyes, sensitivity to light and double vision.

In contrast, too little thyroid hormone leads to hypothyroidism, which can cause eyelids to droop and the face and eyes to become puffy.

SEE RELATED: FDA approves first drug to treat thyroid eye disease

Can pregnancy affect my vision?

The hormones that flood a pregnant woman’s body affect every tissue and organ, including the eyes. Most changes are mild and clear up after the baby is born.

“One of the most common occurrences is that your prescription can change,” explains optometrist Andre Stanberry, clinic director at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. This is because the cornea changes shape.

“Your vision may be more blurry,” he says. “It’s temporary, and due to hormonal fluctuations.” Other changes include greater sensitivity to light, which can cause headaches or make migraine headaches even worse.

SEE RELATED: Pregnancy can cause dry eyes and other vision changes

Does dry eye affect more women than men?

More women suffer from dry eye than men, and women may experience more pain with the condition as well.

Eye doctors expect to see more women with dry eye "because of hormone changes in menopause and autoimmune diseases, both of which can contribute to ocular surface issues,” Stanberry says.

Dry eyes occur because of dysfunction in the meibomian glands, which produce an oil layer that prevents tears from evaporating. Hot compresses can help liquefy the oil in the glands, while eye drops can provide temporary lubrication.

A healthy lifestyle is especially important if you suffer from dry eye, Pate says. “Get regular exercise, don’t smoke, and make sure you have a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which can be found in fish and certain nuts like walnuts.”

Also important, she says, is to take a break from digital devices.

“Digital device use is a huge cause of dry eye, because we are staring at screens and not blinking as much as we should," she says. "So remember to take frequent breaks from the computer, television or smart phone.”

For more difficult cases of dry eye, Stanberry says medications and specialty contact lenses can help, including large contact lenses that cover and protect much of the eye’s surface.

DO YOU SUFFER FROM DRY EYE? Find an eye doctor near you and schedule an appointment.

Do more women have vision loss than men?

Yes, more women than men experience vision loss.

Women make up nearly two-thirds of all visually impaired and blind people in the world, including women who have eye conditions such as cataracts, glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration.

One reason women experience more vision loss is simply that women live longer. A longer life puts women at higher risk for age-related eye disease.

Women also have higher rates of autoimmune diseases that can affect the eyes, including lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.

The good news is that most eye problems can be treated if caught early. According to the National Eye Institute (NEI), more than half of Americans 80 years and older have cataracts or have already had them surgically removed.

Cataract surgery is a simple outpatient procedure that usually produces excellent vision. More than 3 million cataract surgeries are performed in the United States every year.

With glaucoma, the pressure inside the eye is too high, and if left untreated, the disease can damage the optic nerve, causing peripheral vision loss and eventually blindness.

“Eye drop therapy can prevent progression, so vision is preserved,” says optometrist Jessica Cameron of the University of Florida in Gainesville.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) affects central vision. It is the result of deterioration of the macula, the central area of the retina. The wet form of AMD (neovascular) can be treated with injections, but the more common dry form (non-neovascular) currently has no therapy.

“We always suggest patients follow a healthy diet, rich in leafy greens and antioxidants, to help protect the eye,” Cameron adds.

Can poor makeup hygiene damage my eyes?

“Makeup can lead to eye irritation or eye infection,” Pate says. To help prevent those problems, make sure you remove your makeup before going to bed.

“Also, make sure to throw makeup out when the expiration date is up,” she says. “For mascara, which is dark and moist and could harbor bacteria, I recommend changing it every three months.”

Don’t share makeup, she says, and if you do get an eye infection, toss all your makeup and start over. Certain adhesives — like those used to paste on false eyelashes — can be irritating and may need to be avoided.

“Use safe makeup removers made specifically for the eyes and the sensitive skin around the eye,” she suggests,

How can I protect my vision?

Be proactive and take care of your eyes, Pate says. Even though women are at higher risk for vision issues, they can enjoy a long life of good eyesight.

To set yourself up for success, lead a healthy lifestyle, eat a nourishing and varied diet, keep good makeup hygiene, wear quality sunglasses outside and have regular eye exams.

TAKE THE FIRST STEP TOWARD GOOD EYE HEALTH: Find an eye doctor near you and schedule an appointment.

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