During the 20-plus years I have practiced ophthalmology, many patients have told me how little attention they paid to their eyes until they began having problems with their vision.

We frequently take our sight for granted. Without good vision, our day-to-day activities can become challenging or even impossible to accomplish without help.

Having good vision and healthy eyes may determine our ability to remain independent and self-sufficient.

During the month of May, we are focusing on the importance of regular eye examinations to promote eye health, even if your vision seems good.

Gender Gap in Eye Disease

Studies show there is a gender gap in eye disease. Women are more likely than men to suffer from sight-threatening conditions such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), cataracts and glaucoma.

In support of Healthy Vision Month in May, the doctors of Mercy Ophthalmology Washington, Missouri and the American Academy of Ophthalmology remind women to make vision a top priority.

Women make up 65 percent of AMD cases; 61 percent of glaucoma and cataract patients are women, and 66 percent of blind patients are women. Why the inequity? There are a few theories. On average women live longer and many eye problems are age-related. Some eye conditions, such as dry eye, are more common in women, young and old. Social and economic factors affect women’s access to eye care, especially in developing countries.

Whatever the cause, there are a few unique vision problems women need to watch out for more than men. Dry eye occurs at double the rate in postmenopausal women.

In general, women are more susceptible to autoimmune diseases than men, many of which affect vision, such as lupus, Sjögren’s syndrome and hyperthyroiditis. In addition, pregnancy can cause vision changes due to the hormonal changes pregnant women experience.

Good news is most vision loss is preventable. The Academy offers these simple steps to take control of your eye health today:

1. Get a comprehensive medical eye exam at age 40. Early signs of disease or changes in vision may begin at this age.

An exam by an eye care professional skilled in medical and surgical eye care — is an opportunity to identify diseases and conditions that are not symptomatic in the early stages. It is important to choose a doctor who focuses on the medical and surgical management of eye diseases.

2. Know your family history. Certain eye diseases can be inherited.

If you have a close relative with macular degeneration, you have a 50 percent chance of developing this condition. A family history of glaucoma increases your glaucoma risk by four to nine times. Talk to family members about their eye conditions. It can help you and your eyecare specialist evaluate your risk.

3. Eat healthy foods. A diet low in fat and rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains benefits the entire body, including the eyes.

Eye-healthy food choices include citrus fruits, vegetable oils, nuts, whole grains, dark green leafy vegetables and cold-water fish.

4. Stop smoking. Smoking increases the risk for eye diseases such as cataract and age-related macular degeneration.

Smoking also raises the risk for cardiovascular diseases that can indirectly influence your eye health. Tobacco smoke, including secondhand smoke, also worsens dry eye.

5. Wear sunglasses. Exposure to ultraviolet UV light raises the risk of eye diseases, including cataracts, fleshy growths on the eye and cancer.

Always wear sunglasses with 100 percent UV protection and a hat while enjoying time outdoors.

6. Perform daily eyelid hygiene. Like brushing your teeth, your eyelids need daily care.

The daily use of an eyelid cleaner will keep bacteria under control and remove built-up debris from the lashes. Hot compresses help to keep the tear producing glands working at top efficiency.

“Eye exams aren’t only about checking a person’s visual acuity or sharpness, but also determining the overall health of their eyes,” said Rebecca J. Taylor, M.D., clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. “We encourage women as well as men to get regular eye care. By making vision a priority today, we can help protect our sight as we age.”

In both ophthalmology and optometry, we frequently discover conditions that affect your eye in addition to your general health. A comprehensive eye examination can help your primary care provider enhance your overall health and wellness.

At Mercy Ophthalmology in Washington, we are dedicated to both your eye health and your medical wellness. We have the expertise locally to provide world-class eye care.

To learn more ways to keep your eyes healthy, visit www.Mercy.Net/Bettervision and link to the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s EyeSmart® website.

Call today for an appointment with one of our eye care specialists at 636-231-2351.