Healthy Vision Month: NEI focuses on women’s eye health

May is Healthy Vision Month when the National Eye Institute (NEI) encourages everyone to make eye health a priority. This message is especially important for women, who make up two-thirds of all people living with blindness or visual impairment from diseases such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), glaucoma, and cataract. Among women age 40 and older in the U.S., 2.7 million are blind or visually impaired.

"It is all too easy to take healthy vision for granted," said Sarah, a 35-year-old stay-at-home mom. She recalled her grandmother who slowly lost the ability to take part in many family moments because of vision loss from AMD. "From family meals-; she loved to cook!-; to my big day, I know my grandmother felt frustrated not being able to do the things she once could," recalled Sarah.

Her grandmother tried to help her pick out a wedding dress but had trouble because of her vision loss. "And while I'll be forever grateful she was at my wedding, I know a part of her was sad that she could not see me walk down the aisle," said Sarah. "Every woman should make eye health a priority for herself and her family. I want to protect my vision so I can enjoy the activities I love and enjoy the special moments that lie ahead." She explained that she wears sunglasses, gives her eyes a rest to avoid eyestrain, and regularly sees her eye care professional.

Michelle, a 47-year-old communications professional, explained that her grandmother's diabetic eye disease went unchecked too long and led to blindness. "My grandmother went from healthy and independent to dependent, vulnerable, and scared," she said. Michelle and her family had to move in with her grandmother and teach her how to navigate around the house. "Seeing her go through that has made me vigilant about my own eye health. I never miss the opportunity to ask friends and family when they had their last eye exam. I don't want to see another vibrant, independent woman sidelined by something that could have been prevented," she explained.

Kim, a 51-year-old insurance claims specialist explained that her diligence getting regular eye exams paid off. "My most recent check-up with a new doctor led to a life changing experience," she said. Diagnosed with a type of glaucoma, she had laser trabeculoplasty, a treatment to help fluid drain out of the eye. "I had no symptoms!" Kim emphasized. Had she gone untreated, damage from pressure buildup could have led to blindness.

5 steps to preserve your eye health

"The majority of vision loss is preventable," said Rachel Bishop, M.D., M.P.H., chief of the Consult Service Section at NEI. "And there are a number of things women can do to keep their eyes healthy."

Get a dilated eye exam. Getting a comprehensive dilated eye exam is the only way to know if your eyes are healthy and you are seeing your best. Talk to your eye care professional about how often you should have one.

Live a healthy lifestyle. To lower your risk of eye disease, eat a healthy diet, maintain a healthy weight, and manage chronic conditions, such as diabetes. Refrain from smoking, which has been linked to AMD, cataract, and glaucoma.

Know your family history. Talk with your family about their eye health history. Many eye diseases are hereditary.

Use protective eyewear. Protect your eyes when doing household chores or yardwork, playing sports, or working on the job. Wear safety glasses, goggles, shields, or eye guards made of polycarbonate. Talk with your eye care provider about the correct type of protective eyewear for your needs.

Wear sunglasses. Sunglasses help protect your eyes from ultraviolet rays. Prolonged exposure to sunlight can increase your risk of cataract and AMD. When buying sunglasses, look for those that block out 99 to 100 percent of both UVA and UVB rays.

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