There is a notable gender imbalance when it comes to eye health. In fact, two-thirds of all blindness and visual impairment occurs in women, according to the National Eye Institute. Women also have a higher prevalence of age-related macular degeneration, cataract, dry eye, glaucoma, refractive error and thyroid eye disease. According to the Lancet Global Health Commission on Global Eye Health: Vision Beyond 2020 report, this gender imbalance can be attributed to both demographic factors and social factors.

As we celebrate Women’s Eye Health and Safely Month during April, the optical industry is shining a light on this issue, with a sharp focus on prevention, education and eliminating the barriers to improved women’s eye health, including greater access to care.

April Jasper, OD, FAAO, an optometrist at Advanced Eyecare Specialists in West Palm Beach, Fla., said, “Prevention is key. Action items we can take globally include education. Not only education regarding eye health risks, treatment and prevention, but also education in general. A better educated patient is one who can better look after her family.”

 April Jasper, OD, FAAO.
According to a survey by Prevent Blindness, less than 10 percent of women realize that they are at a greater risk of permanent vision loss than men; 86 percent incorrectly believe that men and women are at equal risk; 5 percent think that men are at greater risk; and one in four women has not had an eye exam in the last two years. During Women’s Eye Health and Safety Month, Prevent Blindness is collaborating with the Delta Gamma Foundation to share co-branded resources and information with their members on topics specifically related to women’s eye health.

Dr. Jasper said, “Access to eyecare via telemedicine could be life-changing for patients with some of the access issues we discussed earlier. Education of all doctors regarding these issues can help us work together to educate patients wherever they show up first for health care. Taking advantage of every moment we have with women to talk about eye health is key.”

Global barriers to women’s eye health also exist, often with financial burdens serving as the greatest obstacle.

“Some of the existing barriers globally to women’s eye health include limited access not just to eyecare but also to financial resources to afford eyecare,” said Dr. Jasper. “Access to transportation can limit a woman's ability to seek eyecare as well as a woman's availability due to the large number of women that manage the household details such as childcare, house care, the families medical care and care for older family members as well. Globally, women may have less knowledge of the risks of eye disease and treatments that exist to treat eye disease.”

Shamir Insight, Inc. reminds us that women are at higher risk of eye disease than men. Image via @ShamirInsight on X
Higher prevalence of disease in women may be due to social, biological and cultural differences between men and women, according to several studies. Women have a higher life expectancy than men and this puts them at a greater risk of developing eye diseases such as AMD.

According to Dr. Jasper, “Biologically, women have times in life when health risks can increase such as during pregnancy and menopause. During pregnancy, women are at risk for diabetes and eclampsia, which puts them at risk for eye health problems. Sixteen women versus three men per 100,000 people annually develop thyroid eye disease. Biological differences in women also increase their risk of dry eye disease, as well as its severity.”

Risks for poor or deteriorating eye health isn’t just among the aging female population, warned Dr. Jasper. The social media influence in younger women may play a much larger role than many believe.

“One concern among younger and older women alike is the long-term effect (and short term) of cosmetic use as well as cosmetic procedures. Products, including personal care products, anti-aging creams and eyelash serums are now being used by kids as young as 10 years-old due to the influence of social media. We must educate moms about the dangers of cosmetics so they can educate children. I worry that younger women will listen to influencers and not to doctors, especially if they aren’t seeing doctors.”

 The National Eye Institute reminds women to prioritize taking care of their eye health and vision. Image via @NatEyeInstitute on X
The American Academy of Ophthalmology offers five steps that women can take to improve their eye health as they age, including: getting a comprehensive medical eye exam at age 40; knowing your family history as certain eye diseases can be inherited; eating healthy foods; stopping smoking; and wearing sunglasses outdoors, as exposure to ultraviolet UV light raises the risk of eye diseases.

“The best thing a woman can do to prevent, improve and maintain good eye health is to learn about the risks and practice prevention by adopting good eye health behaviors,” said Dr. Jasper. “Take supplements to promote a healthy retina and tear film, avoid behaviors that increase risk such as unapproved products in and around the eyes, wear sunglasses to prevent UV damage and get your eyes checked yearly—make sure you tell your eye doctor everything.

“Don’t go to the doctor and hide from the products and procedures you are using. Patients go to the dentist every six months and yet put eye exams off if they think they can see ‘good enough.’ You cannot treat what you don’t know you have, and early intervention and treatment is key with all eye health issues.”

ECPs and optical companies took to social media this month to post about the importance of keeping women’s eye health and safety top of mind for the month of April. Here’s what they had to say.

Beach Eye Medical Group in California wants women to make a pledge to care for their eyes. Image via @BeachEyeMedical on X
Bruder Healthcare wants women to take proactive steps to keep their vision crystal clear. Image via @Bruderhc on X

The Eye Center of New York reminds women that smoking and second-hand smoke increases the risks for cataracts and macular degeneration. Image via @EyeCenterofNY on X

Meyer Eyecare reminds women that studies show they are at higher risk for certain eye diseases and conditions like autoimmune diseases, thyroid eye diseases, glaucoma, macular degeneration, cataracts, dry eye, and more. Image via @EyecareMeyer on X