Females & vision loss: What women need to know about eye health now

Close-up of woman's eye looking forward

Did you know that females are at a greater risk of permanent vision loss than males? It’s true, despite the fact that only 9% of American women know it.

“The main reason females are at greater risk is because they often live longer. This makes them more prone to age-related eye disease,” says Dr. Lakisha Crigler, a medical director at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. “White females in particular are the most affected. By 2050, more than 2 million white females are expected to be visually impaired and 610,000 will be blind.”

What eye conditions are females more likely to experience?

Dr. Crigler: Women are more likely to experience sight-threatening issues as well as conditions that affect their daily lives, such as dry eye.

Females make up:

  • 66% of people experiencing blindness
  • 61% of people with cataracts (a clouding of the eye’s lens which impairs vision)
  • 65% of people with age-related macular degeneration (vision deterioration), which is almost double that of their male counterparts

Chronic dry eye also affects females more often than males. This causes redness, irritation, discomfort and blurry vision. Untreated, dry eye can lead to a higher risk of eye infection.

Basic refractive errors (common conditions that can often be corrected with eyewear) also disproportionately affect females. These include:

  • Nearsightedness (myopia): Objects up close are clear while far-away objects are blurry
  • Farsightedness (hyperopia): Distant objects appear clearer than objects that are near
  • Astigmatism: The eye can’t focus light evenly, causing images to appear blurry and stretched out
  • Presbyopia: The ability to focus up close becomes difficult with age

Why do females experience vision issues more often?

Dr. Crigler: There are several reasons women are at increased risk for vision problems:

Age 

Women live longer. The longer you live, the more likely you are to develop a variety of health conditions, including age-related vision loss.

Other diseases

Women have a higher risk of diseases that make them prone to vision loss. This includes autoimmune diseases such as lupus, thyroid diseases, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. In Tennessee, 13% of women have diabetes, which increases the risk of eye conditions such as cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and diabetic macular edema.

Diabetes & vision: 4 conditions to know 

Fluctuating hormones

Hormonal changes also make women more susceptible to vision problems. Pregnancy, menopause, and the use of birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy can negatively affect eye health. Specifically, a dysfunction in the glands that produce oil can cause trouble for women. In fact, 61% of women suffer from dry eye due to hormonal changes surrounding menopause.

Lifestyle choices

  • Smoking significantly increases the risk of macular degeneration and cataracts. In Tennessee, up to 20% of women
  • Poor diet and lack of exercise can also contribute to permanent vision problems. In Tennessee, 6% of the population is obese.
Fun fact: In studies, women appear to be better at distinguishing subtle differences in colors than men. Women can distinguish tiny differences in yellows and greens that look identical to men. Men, on the other hand, are more sensitive to fine details and rapid movement than women.

How can females protect their vision?

Dr. Crigler: Knowing that you’re at a higher risk of eye issues is the first step to protecting your vision.

In addition to that:

  • Go to your annual eye exam
  • Don’t smoke
  • Eat plenty of omega-3 fatty acids as part of a healthy diet
  • Exercise regularly
  • Take frequent breaks from screens (phone, computer, TV, etc.)
  • Wear sunglasses 
  • Throw away mascara and eyeliner every 3 months
  • Clean your makeup tools weekly to lower the risk of eye infections
  • Take out contacts daily and change the fluid

Dr. Crigler: The first piece of advice is the most important; Don’t put off getting your annual exam. Eye exams are one task that always seems to fall way down our to-do list. And we’re even more likely to skip them when there’s no obvious problem. But, once you notice a problem it may be too late. Going to your provider annually can make the difference in early intervention and long-term sight preservation.

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Ashley Brantley

Ashley Brantley has been writing about food, culture and health for more than a decade, and has lived in three of Tennessee’s four major cities (Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville).

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BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also use tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the in the Member Wellness Center under the Managing Your Health tab.

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Ashley Brantley has been writing about food, culture and health for more than a decade, and has lived in three of Tennessee’s four major cities (Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville).