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Research suggests that you should be.
A 2008 study by Prevent Blindness America and the National Eye Institute consistently shows that more women are diagnosed with major eye diseases than men. Of the more than 3.6 million Americans age 40 or older who suffer from visual impairment, including blindness, 2.3 million are women.
This disturbing research prompted Prevent Blindness America to designate April as “Women’s Eye Care and Safety Month” in an effort to encourage women to make vision health a priority and schedule an eye exam that includes dilation.
The study found that in addition to more diagnosed cases of major eye disease, women are more prone to dry eye syndrome, a condition where not enough natural tears are produced, or the composition of the tear layers is compromised.
According to the National Women’s Health Resource Center, approximately 6 million women and 3 million men have moderate to severe symptoms of dry eye syndrome. It’s even more common in post-menopausal and pregnant women due to hormonal fluctuations.
With an increase in hormones during pregnancy, women may notice changes in vision clarity, dry eyes, and puffy eyelids that can obscure peripheral vision. Sensitivity to light and migraine-like headaches may also appear during pregnancy.
While many of these changes are temporary and more of a nuisance than vision-threatening, certain vision changes warrant a trip to the eye doctor.
Blurred vision or “seeing spots” may be signs of a more serious problem and should be discussed with a doctor immediately, since it may be an indicator of high blood pressure or diabetes.
If you are diabetic and pregnant (or planning to become pregnant), Prevent Blindness America recommends that you get a full, dilated eye exam.
Older women also have unique vision care needs, especially if you are undergoing or have undergone hormone replacement therapy.
A study published in the March 2010 issue of Ophthalmology showed that women who are post menopausal and receiving Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) treatments may be at an increased risk for cataracts.
The study, conducted by Birgitta E. Lindblad MD at Sundsvall Hospital in Sweden, found that of the 30,000 postmenopausal Swedish women studied who were using or had used HRT, there was a significantly higher rate of cataract removal compared to women who had never used HRT.
The research also found that the longer the duration of HRT use, the greater the increase in risk.
So now that you know that you gender may make you more prone to certain eye disorders, what do you do?
The most critical action is to make sure that you are getting regular eye exams which include dilation.
Dilation is one of those procedures that patients rarely want to undergo, even though it is painless and easy (especially compared to other more invasive medical tests.)
The side-effects of dilation are short-lived and minor: Some light sensitivity and impact on near vision (for example reading) for a few hours after the drops are administered.
But dilation is vital to allowing the doctor to obtain clear views of your eye, especially the back of your eye. Without performing a dilation, it is very challenging to spot existing or developing conditions early-on.
Having an eye exam and skipping the dilation is like going to your OBGYN and asking her to not check for breast lumps.
Yes, it’s that important.
If you haven’t had an eye exam in the past two years, it’s time to schedule one. If your last eye exam didn’t include dilation, it’s time to bite the bullet and schedule a dilation. Yes, it’s a bit inconvenient, but not nearly as inconvenient as being blind.
If you are pregnant or undergoing fertility treatment; are over the age of 40; diabetic; have high blood pressure; a family history of eye disease; have undergone a hysterectomy; or are undergoing or have underwent hormone replacement therapy, more frequent eye examinations with dilation may be necessary.
Check with your eye doctor or physician to determine the right exam interval for you.
Please Note: The content of this article is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your eye doctor, physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. And remember, never disregard individual professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on the Internet! – Dr. Michelle