Why Women Have More Eye Disease Than Men

A senior woman and middle-aged woman hug

According to the National Eye Institute, two out of every three cases of blindness or vision problems occur in women. Studies from the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) show that women are more likely to develop certain eye diseases, like age-related macular degeneration (AMD), cataracts, glaucoma and dry eye.

Women face unique risk factors and vision problems. That’s why it is important to know the signs of eye disease and get screened. April is Women’s Eye Health and Safety Month, making now the perfect time to review the steps you can take to protect your sight.

The Difference Between Women’s and Men’s Eye Health

Many of the most common eye diseases are age-related, with risk increasing the older you get. Because women in the U.S. on average live longer than men, they also tend to have more age-related eye disease, like macular degeneration. 

According to Dr. Kimberly Riordan, Dry Eye Center Head at Florida Eye Specialists, hormones can also play a critical role in the development of many eye diseases, like dry eye. 

“There are conditions women are more prone to than men due to our hormones,” said Dr. Riordan. “We’re different in every aspect, and that can trickle down to the eye. Dry eye is much more common in women, especially as we age and after menopause.” 

Research from AAO shows that postmenopausal women are twice as likely to develop dry eye disease as men. Changing hormones during pregnancy can also impact your vision, causing puffy or dry eyes, discomfort and vision loss.

Risk Factors for Eye Disease

Since women are already at higher risk for eye disease, it is especially important they stay aware of other common risk factors. Dr. Riordan says that starts with overall health and diet.

“The eyes are connected to the body, which is why diet is huge,” said Dr. Riordan. “I don’t think people realize how much diet affects your eyes, like with macular degeneration.” Recent research published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology showed people who ate unhealthy foods were three times more likely to develop late-stage AMD.

Smoking is another major risk factor that impacts whole body health and eye disease. It has been linked to AMD, cataracts and glaucoma. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that smokers are twice as likely to develop AMD and two to three times more likely to develop cataracts.

Finally, Dr. Riordan emphasized the importance of wearing proper UV eye protection.

“Living in Florida, sunglasses are so important. UV rays are shown to accelerate conditions like cataracts and macular degeneration,” she said. “We also see a lot of skin cancers here, commonly along the eyelid. We have to be careful to protect that delicate skin.”

Makeup and Cosmetic Tips for Eye Health

“We all want to look our best, but sometimes cosmetics may be causing more harm than good,” said Dr. Riordan. When it comes to eye health, she explained it’s important to pay attention to what you use near your eyes. Some chemicals and ingredients may lead to eye irritation or worsen existing dry eye, so she recommends you always look for clean products that are safe to use around the eyes. 

For example, retinoids — a class of antiaging medications — have been shown to increase the risk of gland dysfunction and dry eye.

“People are quick to grab cosmetics with Retinol and Retin-A derivatives,” said Dr. Riordan. “But, I usually recommend that patients do not use these products so close to the eyes, like where crow’s feet are.”

Dr. Riordan says a better option for patients is IPL (Intense Pulsed Light) therapy, which can help treat both wrinkles and symptoms of dry eye. She recommends discussing your options and concerns with your doctor. Learn more about IPL treatments at Focus Aesthetics here.

10 Eye-Healthy Tips for Makeup From Dr. Riordan:

  1. Always wash off your makeup daily and never sleep in it.
  2. Never use makeup longer than recommended. For example, mascara should be replaced every 90 days. All cosmetics have an icon that shows how long the product is good for once opened. It looks like a jar with an open lid and will have the time in months, like 6M (six months) or 12M (12 months). I recommend writing the date you opened it onto the product.
  3. Never mix water into your mascara bottle.
  4. When applying eyeliner, avoid “tightlining.” This is a technique where you apply eyeliner to the waterline, the eye area where the top and bottom eyelids meet when your eyes close. This can be bad for your eye health, so choose other looks instead.
  5. Avoid waterproof cosmetics. These take harsher ingredients to fully remove them and can be more irritating to the eyes and skin.
  6. Be cautious with eyelash growth serums that contain prostaglandin analogs. Opt for more natural options that do not contain them. For example, Twenty Twenty Beauty has one that is prostaglandin-free and promotes healthy lashes.
  7. Keep in mind to avoid products containing retinol or derivatives of it. These can lead to Meibomian gland dysfunction which can lead to or worsen dry eyes.
  8. Clean your false eyelashes daily. Avoid them if you are developing any symptoms. 
  9. Be cautious about lash tinting and lifting. The chemicals used for these processes can cause eye irritation and may not be the best option. 
  10. Opt for using an eyelash curler with a good, clean mascara for a safer, less irritating way to highlight your eyelashes. And again, remove it daily.

Schedule Your Eye Exam and Protect Your Sight

The most important thing you can do to protect your sight is to schedule your annual eye exam. Many eye diseases show few or no symptoms until vision loss is severe or irreversible. Your eye doctor can catch issues before they affect your vision. They will also make recommendations for your lifestyle based on your family history. 

If you have questions about your eye health, symptoms of vision loss or you’re due for your annual exam, schedule an appointment with Florida Eye Specialists today. We have 20 eye specialists to choose from and 11 convenient locations across Jacksonville, Fernandina Beach, Orange Park and St. Augustine. We look forward to seeing you soon.