Age-related eye disease and gender
Worldwide, the prevalence of moderate to severe visual impairment and blindness is 285 millions, with 65% of visually impaired and 82% of all blind people being 50 years and older. Meta-analyses have shown that two out of three blind people are women, a gender discrepancy that holds true for both developed and developing countries. Cataract accounts for more than half of all blindness globally and gender inequity in access to cataract surgery is the major cause of the higher prevalence of blindness in women. In addition to gender differences in cataract surgical coverage, population-based studies on the prevalence of lens opacities indicate that women have a higher risk of developing cataract. Laboratory as well as epidemiologic studies suggest that estrogen may confer antioxidative protection against cataractogenesis, but the withdrawal effect of estrogen in menopause leads to increased risk of cataract in women. For the other major age-related eye diseases; glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and diabetic retinopathy, data are inconclusive. Due to anatomic factors, angle closure glaucoma is more common in women, whereas the dominating glaucoma type; primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG), is more prevalent in men. Diabetic retinopathy also has a male predominance and vascular/circulatory factors have been implied both in diabetic retinopathy and in POAG. For AMD, data on gender differences are conflicting although some studies indicate increased prevalence of drusen and neovascular AMD in women. To conclude, both biologic and socioeconomic factors must be considered when investigating causes of gender differences in the prevalence of age-related eye disease.