Glaucoma is a family of diseases that damages the optic nerve. It is among the leading causes of vision loss worldwide. It is estimated that more than 3 million Americans have glaucoma, and half of those affected are unaware they have it.
Women are at higher risk for glaucoma. There are many theories as to why. Since May is Women’s Health Month, let’s explore some of the possible reasons for the connection.
A 2013 study found that women who took oral contraceptives for more than three years had a two-fold risk of developing primary open-angle glaucoma (the most common type of the disease) in later life. The researchers indicated that results do not confirm that birth control pills cause glaucoma, but that they could increase risk for the disease.
Sensitivity to Changes in Eye Pressure
Women who develop glaucoma often have lower intraocular pressure (IOP) than men, which could mean that women are more sensitive to increases in pressure. Additionally, women may be more predisposed to angle-closure glaucoma (a rare but serious form of the disease) which is caused by a rapid or sudden increase in IOP.
Studies show reduced levels of estrogen can increase women’s susceptibility to optic nerve damage. Estrogen levels begin to fluctuate during perimenopause and then taper off as women go through menopause. Women who enter menopause at an earlier age have a higher risk for glaucoma than women who enter menopause later.
Visit an Ophthalmologist
Experts are still researching estrogen’s protective effect on the eyes, so make an appointment with your ophthalmologist and ask about the latest studies regarding women’s risk for glaucoma. Because low levels of estrogen are associated with increased risk for glaucoma, many women are choosing hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Some studies suggest that HRT can reduce intraocular pressure in menopausal women and prevent optic nerve damage (AAO).
Click here to contact one of our board-certified ophthalmologists and schedule a comprehensive eye exam. Your eye doctor will perform several tests during your exam and will dilate your eyes to evaluate the health of your optic nerve. At your appointment, you can ask about hormone replacement therapy or other treatments that can help prevent glaucoma.