In many households, women tend to actively be on the lookout for their family’s overall health and well-being. While selflessly putting the needs of loved ones before their own, women can often overlook health problems of their own that could lead to major healthcare costs down the road. This is especially true when it comes to vision.

Vision problems are the second most prevalent health problem in the country, affecting more than 120 million people, according to the Vision Council of America. Although it’s important for everyone to maintain healthy eyes, research shows women are at greater risk of suffering permanent vision loss than men.

In fact, 66 percent of women are more likely to incur blindness than men, according to Prevent Blindness, a leading eye health organization.

Additionally, women are significantly more likely to develop various vision issues, including glaucoma, cataracts, refractive error, and age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which is the leading cause of vision loss among Americans over the age of 55. Furthermore, women are also at greater risk of other health conditions that could impact their vision such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis (MS), lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and breast cancer.

Since 91 percent of women are unaware of these heightened risks, many are not taking the proper precautions to ensure they are in good health.

Here are a few ways women can help protect – and improve – their vision:

  • Know your family’s history. Since some eye diseases and conditions are hereditary, research and be aware of your family’s eye health history so you can inform your doctor.
  • Quit smoking (or never start). Studies show smoking increases the risk of AMD, cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and dry eye syndrome. Smokers are three to four times more likely to develop AMD than non-smokers, and people living with smokers nearly double their risk of developing the disease as well.
  • Wear protective eye equipment. Use proper eyewear when participating in sports or doing various chores around the house, such as yard work and home repairs. Also, wear brimmed hats and sunglasses that substantially block ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays.
  • Maintain a healthy diet. Vitamins C and E, zinc, lutein, zeaxanthin and omega-3 fatty acids all play an important role in eye health. Ideal foods to incorporate in your diet include carrots, spinach, kale, grapefruit, strawberries, seeds, nuts, eggs, salmon, albacore tuna, trout and halibut.
  • Visit your eye care specialist regularly. Some eye diseases have no symptoms. To ensure you have healthy vision and catch potential problems early, it is important to get a comprehensive dilated eye exam every two years for adults ages 18 to 60, and annual exams for seniors age 61 and older. These exams are also helpful for detecting other high-risk health conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

By proactively acting on these tips and making vision a health priority now, you’ll be saving your eyes and overall health in the long run.

Dr. Mark Kishel is senior clinical officer for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia and a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics.