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Dry Eye: The Other Symptom of Menopause

What symptoms do you think of when it comes to menopause? Hot flashes, insomnia, vaginal dryness, mood swings, fatigue, headaches all the usual suspects, right? Yet one symptom affects more than 60% of women and they don’t even know it’s connected to menopause: dry eyes. And more often than not, other imbalances that affect the eye are also at work but only become evident when hormones begin to fluctuate.

Eyes are the windows of the soul, it’s said. But in my experience your eyes are also windows into your physiology and they can turn dry, itchy, red, and irritated in, literally, the blink of an eye. Symptoms of dry eye are an invaluable warning that something deeper is brewing in your system and needs to be looked at – a truth many Eastern practitioners have known for millennia. Yet conventional medicine continues to tell us that dry eye is an isolated condition, one that is best served by covering up the symptoms with drops or blocking the eye’s tear drainage system. At Lifetime Eyecare, not only are we treating dry eye from the outside but we are also treating dry eye from the inside out. So let’s take an up-close look at dry eye because it can affect so many of us and learn how to restore balance to the body and the eyes.

Symptoms of dry eye

Temporary mild symptoms of tired, itchy, or red eyes that abate with sleep, a change in environment, or taking your contact lenses out can be chalked up to obvious culprits. But worsening or persistent symptoms should be taken seriously. They include:

  • itchiness
  • tears running down the cheeks
  • increasingly tired eyes during the
  • irritation from smoke, wind, or air
  • stringy mucus
  • sensitivity to light
  • blurriness
  • problems wearing contact

If dry eye is left untreated, in the worse case scenario, the cornea can become scarred or develop ulcers. Infection can become more common because eye fluids help carry away debris. Vision can be affected, and may feel chronic eye pain. But getting to the real cause of the condition can take some sleuthing.

What causes dry eyes?

Dry eyes can develop for many reasons including deficient oil production by the meibomian glands (found in the inner eyelids), too much evaporation of the eyes watery tears, insufficient tear production and poor spreading of the tears. Most people with dry eyes are affected by both defective oil and high evaporation. Symptoms of dry eye are also common with certain auto – immune disorders, like diabetes, arthritis, lupus, and Sjögren’s syndrome where tear production is affected.

If you think you may have dry eye, contact us and schedule an evaluation of your eyes. You will also be asked a number of questions about your lifestyle and habits. Lifestyle factors that contribute to dry eyes include:

  • Looking at computers or reading without blinking often enough to redistribute eye
  • Living and working in dry places
  • Wearing contact lenses that absorb eye fluids
  • Having LASIK surgery, which cuts eye nerves, reducing impulses for blinking
  • Taking medications like allergy pills, diuretics, beta – blockers, birth control pills or other drugs that dry out the body
  • Diets that don’t provide sufficient essential fatty acids or anti-inflammatory foods
  • Droopy eyelids or certain health conditions, particularly autoimmune disorders like diabetes, arthritis, lupus, and Sjögren’s syndrome, which also causes dryness in the mouth.

When it comes to identifying the cause of dry eye we do not stop here, because the root imbalances that lead to many cases of dry eye extend much deeper, particularly for women in peri-menopause and menopause. Often it’s just the tip of the iceberg. That’s because hormones play an important role in tear production and lubrication.

Hormonal changes and dry eyes

The degree to which your hormones affect your eye health depends largely on your individual blueprint and lifestyle. However, studies have linked androgen (testosterone) and estrogen receptors on the cornea of the eye and on the meibomian gland. This indicates a correlation between the production of tears and sex hormones. Before menopause, the more testosterone you have, the fewer tears you produce, while an increase in estrogen means more tear production. However, this equation reverses during menopause — more testosterone means more tear production, while more estrogen means less tear production. And while we still need to learn more about how this mechanism works, it’s clear that hormones play a significant role in lubricating our eyes. It makes sense that dry eyes may result from estrogen deficiency, progesterone deficiency, testosterone deficiency or possibly from an imbalance of any of the three. When your eyes stay dry for too long, the result is localized inflammation. This immune response releases all kinds of inflammatory substances which make your eyes red, itchy, and swollen. The appearance of dry eyes often coincides with other signs of “drying” in menopause, like sore joints and dry vaginal tissues. Restoring a natural internal balance between estrogen, progesterone and testosterone is an important remedy for dry eyes. Though this is something we rarely hear about in an eye doctor’s office, or other imbalances that may be contributing to the condition.

While no clinically controlled study as of yet has linked the localized inflammation of dry eye to systemic low-grade inflammation, some say they are branches off the same tree and some symptoms of dry eye may be an important warning sign that your body’s capabilities are on overload.

Tips To Manage Chronic Dry Eye

Here are steps you can take to avoid making the symptoms worse and to reduce the effect of dry eye on your life.

  • Visit an eye doctor for an eye health exam if you think you may have chronic dry eye. Symptoms include dryness, blurred vision, itchiness and sensitivity to light.
  • Take regular breaks to rest and blink when reading or using a computer.
  • If you wear contact lenses, ask your eye care practitioner to consider your dry eye in their choice of lens material for you. Many newer materials are designed to address symptoms of dryness in contact lens wearers. Another option for dry eye relief is to wear your glasses from time to time when they’re convenient.
  • When outside, wear wrap-around sunglasses to prevent the wind from blowing against your eyes and drying out the surface of your eyes.
  • Run a humidifier in any room where you spend a lot of time.
  • Avoid rubbing your eyes.
  • Talk to your eye doctor if you regularly take allergy medications, antihistamines, decongestants, diuretics, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or blood pressure medications, because these may contribute to dry eye symptoms