Things That Cause Blindness

You might be surprised to learn that blindness has a gender bias. “Most people aren’t aware that two-thirds of people who are blind are women,” says Assumpta Madu, M.D., an ophthalmologist at NYU Langone. “There’s a much larger preponderance to blindness and vision impairment for women compared to men.”

In fact, according to research from the University of Illinois at Chicago, women are at higher risk for certain kinds of glaucoma, which can cause blindness. Some experts think this is tied to estrogen, but there are other reasons women are more affected by blindness than men, ranging from longer lifespans to lifestyle habits (like sleeping in contacts—two-thirds of contact lens wearers are women, according to the CDC). And while some causes for vision loss aren’t preventable—as is the case with retinal detachment, when the light-sensitive tissue that communicates with the optic nerve in your brain detaches from its usual position without any clear provocation—other factors are preventable (or at least predictable).Here’s what you need to know about why your eyesight may be at risk.
Early Menopause
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Unfortunately, menopause doesn’t just wreak havoc on your body temperature and mood—it can also lead to vision problems. Madu says that women undergoing menopause are predisposed to getting glaucoma, an eye disease that damages the eye’s optic nerve and can lead to blindness. But things get worse for women who experience menopause before the age of 45. “Early menopause increases risk of developing glaucoma over two and a half times,” she says.
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You only have to look at the numbers to link smoking to blindness and vision loss. According to the CDC, smokers are two times more likely to get macular degeneration (the most common cause of blindness in American adults) than nonsmokers. They are also two to three times more likely to get cataracts (which cloud your eyes natural lenses) than nonsmokers. (Kick-start your new, healthy routine with Women’s Health’s 12-Week Total-Body Transformation!)
The sun
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The rumors are true: Staring directly at the sun can lead to blindness. “It’s almost like lasering your retina,” Madu says. And while some people might get lucky and have their retinal scarring heal on its own, that’s certainly not the case for everyone. But it’s not just the sun that can cause damage. Welding flames also cause eye doctors a lot of stress, as it can cause peeling or flaking off of the lens of the eye. Don’t need to freak out if you’ve glanced over at construction on your block—damage is related to time of exposure, which is one reason why welders need to make sure they wear protective glasses.
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If you’ve ever watched daytime TV, chances are you’ve heard a quick monologue at the end of medication commercials speed reading through a long list of things that “side effects can include.” In some drugs, those side effects can be blindness. “There are some medications that cause deposits on the retina that can, over a long period of time, impair the vision,” says Madu. Ask your doctor if you’re at risk, and see if you need to switch meds.Watch a hot doc explain how to help your thyroid disorder:
Contact lenses
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Most contact wearers have made the mistake of sleeping in our contacts a handful of times, but definitely don’t make it a habit. Madu says that sleeping in contacts can cause oxygen deprivation to the eyes, which will block the cornea from working properly, essentially shutting down your eye’s metabolism and potentially causing blindness. You don’t want to have impaired vision vision because you were too sleepy to take out your lenses.

The eyes have it—the clues to your health, that is. Sure, you need to be on the lookout for common eye conditions like glaucoma, cataracts, and macular degeneration. But your eyes may also tell you when things are seriously off elsewhere.”Nothing in your body is in a box,” says Deborah Herrmann, M.D., assistant professor of clinical ophthalmology and attending physician at Scheie Eye Institute at University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. “Your eyes are connected to your central nervous system and everything else. Something that’s affecting your body can be affecting your eyes as well.”Whether you’re feeling weird eye symptoms or seeing them when you look in the mirror, pay attention. Your peepers could be sounding the alarm about one of these six serious conditions.
high cholesterol
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High cholesterol
“Someone with high cholesterol can have transient vision loss that comes and goes, like a curtain or shade coming and going over their eye,” says Herrmann. This is a sign your carotid artery is plugged with plaque and struggling to get blood to your eye. You may also have eye pain, notice a grey ring around your cornea (called an arcus senilis), or have trouble adjusting to bright light. In some cases, yellowish cholesterol deposits called xanthelasma can show up on your eyelids or in the corners of your eye socket.
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Thyroid problems
Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped organ in your neck, and it controls certain hormones that help regulate your growth and metabolism. If your thyroid isn’t functioning properly it can lead to a host of problems, which sometimes includes swollen eye muscles and congested eye sockets that cause your eyes to bulge out and look bigger than usual, says Herrmann. You might also have double vision.Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disorder that affects your thyroid, can make your eyelids retract, which can also make your eyes look bigger than usual. If your eyelids retract enough that you can’t close your eye, you may develop dry eye, since your lids can’t keep moisture in. (Kick-start your new, healthy routine with Women’s Health’s 12-Week Total-Body Transformation!)
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Regular eye exams are a good idea for anyone, but it’s a must if you have diabetes or are at high risk for the disease. “Diabetes can make the macula—the part of the retina that controls your central vision—swell or retain fluid or fluid,” says Herrmann. While you might not completely lose your vision, she says, you’d definitely notice a change for the worse. People with diabetes are also 40 percent more likely to get glaucoma and 60 percent more likely to get cataracts, and they should be on the lookout for diabetic retinopathy—a set of disorders that affect the light-sensitive part of your eye. Retinopathy can cause problems like blurry vision or even retinal detachment.

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