From mascaras to eyeliners, anti-wrinkle creams and exfoliating wipes, our eyes and the surrounding skin face some pretty harsh conditions. If the wind isn’t wiping at our eyes, dirty fingers are. Chemicals from eye creams and cleansers can easily enter our eyes (and sting), rough towels exacerbate dry skin sensitivity, and long hours in front of our computer screens amplifies eye strain. And although our daily routines are filled with activities that cause strain on our eyes and their health, natural eye health is often overlooked by many, even the super health conscious!
Two thirds of those patients who are legally blind or visually impaired in the USA are women; of 4.1 million Americans age 40 and older who are visually impaired or blind, 2.6 million are women. Studies show that more women have age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy than men — all four of the leading eye diseases in the country. According to the National Eye Institute, the primary causes of the gender discrepancy are longevity, as women tend to live longer than men, as well as hormonal/biological factors such as:
- Birth control/Hormonal Replacement Therapy, which can cause blood clots and strokes, thereby causing vision problems. Oral contraceptives can also increase women’s chances for cataracts and dry eye.
- Pregnancy brings women dry eye syndrome, light sensitivity, potential prescription changes, and eye puffiness. Migraines and higher blood pressure during the nine months can cause blurry vision and retinal detachment, all which take their toll on the eyes.
- Menopause is often accompanied by dry eye syndrome and uveitis (eye inflammation).
- Breast cancer drugs can increase the risk of cataracts, eye bleeds, itchy eyes, and light sensitivity.
- Autoimmune diseases that women suffer from disproportionately including lupus, multiple sclerosis (MS), rheumatoid arthritis, and Sjögren’s syndrome (destruction of the glands in the eyes and mouth that produce moisture) damage the eyes over time.
Here are ten tips to keep your eyes healthy all year round —
1. Lower your phone and keep your laptops and ipads at a distance. The contrast and the glare of an electronic screen can eventually lead to eyestrain and, in some cases, computer vision syndrome, which happens after prolonged use. Symptoms can include headaches, blurred vision, neck pain, dry or red eyes, fatigue, double vision, and difficulty refocusing. Try lowering the brightness on your screen to decrease digital eye strain.
2. Get a comprehensive eye exam. Know what’s up, ASAP because prevention is always the best medicine. If you already wear glasses or lenses, you should be getting a checkup at least every two years. For those who don’t, 40 is the perfect age to start as age-related issues like dry eye and glaucoma become a threat. By age 50, you should be getting an eye exam every year, especially if the women in your family have a history of vision loss, diabetes or autoimmune diseases.
3. Take contact lens hygiene seriously. If you wear dailies, actually change them daily. If you wear bi-weekly contacts, don’t wear them for any longer than 14 days. Wearing contacts for too long (especially sleeping in them), can cause blood vessels in the eyes to grow into the cornea and can lead to increased risk of infection. Both infections and extended contact lens over use time can lead to permanent scarring in the eye.
4. Wear your glasses. With the expansion of cute and cheap options, and several at-home trial and ship eyeglass companies like Warby Parker, there’s no longer an excuse to not accessorize/indulge/save yourself. Give yourself a break from lenses at least once a week.
5. Use natural products without chemicals to avoid irritation and inflammation. Try bleach-free, organic cotton cleansing pads to remove makeup instead of facial tissue or towels that have a rougher surface as microfibers also aggravate dry skin. Be sure to also remove your makeup every day so your skin’s pores aren’t clogged (to prevent pimples and infections!)
6. Treat dry eye properly. If you have dry eye, install a humidifier at home, use preservative-free eye drops and don’t forget to blink often, especially when reading or using the computer. Ignoring dry eye over time can cause damage to the can actually lead to ulcers, corneal abrasions, and blurry vision.
7. Quit smoking. Smoking has been associated with cataracts, age-related macular degeneration and corneal diseases. Studies show smokers can have a three-fold increase in the risk of developing AMD compared with people who have never smoked. Female smokers over age 80 are 5.5 times more likely to develop AMD than non-smokers of the same age.
8. Wear yo’ shades! As if we needed an excuse to show off our sunglasses. Exposure to direct sunlight causes UV damage, leading to cataracts and tumors. You may not realize how much sunlight strains your eyes; try wearing your sunglasses in the car or when exercising if possible to soften bright light and to slow tear evaporation from the eye surfaces, contributing to dry eye symptoms.
9. Eat a balanced diet and exercise. Eat green leafy veggies, oily fish and fruit. A diet rich in vitamin C, vitamin E, beta carotene, lutein, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, and zeaxanthin helps to maintain healthy vision and can slow the progression of some diseases. If you don’t like seafood, try broccoli, zucchini, peas, and Brussels sprouts. Also remember to keep your diet low in sodium and caffeine. Keep a bag of baby carrots with you, take some vitamin supplements with your breakfast, try switching to de-caf, and aim to walk an hour every day for the recommended daily amount of exercise.
10. Practice 20-20-20. Every twenty minutes when working on a digital device, take a 20 second break to look at something 20 feet away from you to help your eyes adjust to natural light, further depths, and so on.
April is National Women’s Eye Health Month. Join in on the conversation and tell us about your favorite natural eye health tips and more on Twitter @maximhy!