Menopause and dry eyes
Gritty, painful eyes? While many symptoms appear at this time of life, menopause and dry eyes is not often spoken about even though it is quite common. Read on to find out more about why it happens and treatments for dry eyes during menopause, as well as when to seek help.
DRY EYES DEFINITION
It’s easy to guess what we mean by dry eyes. Normally the eye is kept moist and lubricated by your tears, but dryness can happen when your body either produces fewer tears, or when the composition of your tears changes. This can be associated with the hormonal changes during menopause and HRT use.
Symptoms can include an irritating and persistent itching or gritty sensation in the eyes, discomfort when working with screens, and an increased sensitivity to light and air conditioning. It can also cause your eyes to feel sore in general, tear up frequently and sometimes look red.
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HOW LIKELY ARE DRY EYES DURING MENOPAUSE?
- Studies have shown that dry eyes are more common in women due to hormone changes, involving oestrogens and androgens.
- You can begin to experience dry eye problems during perimenopause, around the age of 45
- Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is also now thought to contribute to dry eyes in some cases
- According to the NHS, some medical conditions, including blepharitis, Sjogren’s syndrome and lupus can increase the risk of having dry eyes
- Your lifestyle can increase your likelihood of experiencing dry eyes, including how often you use a screen and if you wear contact lenses
- According to Patient, some medications can cause dry eyes as a side-effect, such as:
- Diuretics (water tablets)
- Some antidepressants
- Beta-blockers, such as propranolol
- Some acne treatments
- Some eye drops used to treat other eye conditions
- Some cough medicines
Read more about the stages of menopause.
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS OF DRY EYES?
Burning sensation in your eyes
Swollen, reddened or sticky eyes
Discomfort when looking at bright lights or screens
HOW TO HELP DRY EYES
Read up on research
Some ophthalmologists recommend omega-3 supplements to help dry eye symptoms – but research shows mixed results. One study showed it can help reduce tear evaporation, while another study showed no improvements. There are also mixed results about the value of vitamins and supplements – some can interfere with other medications or conditions. It’s best to talk to your doctor before taking any supplements or vitamins.
Your eyelids produce the oily part of your tear film and if they become swollen or inflamed they can become painful. If you wear eye makeup, remove it every night with a gentle makeup remover, and don’t apply products like eyeliner to the inner rim of your eye. You may also try going without makeup to see if it helps with your symptoms. It’s also a good idea to try sterile cleansing eyelid wipes, although make sure you are using a product specifically formulated for use on eyes.
If you find that your eyes are becoming irritated often, try using a warm compress twice a day for a few minutes at a time – or as often as you need!
Reduce your screen time
Use of screens – including mobile phones, tablets and computers – is linked with a range of dry eye syndromes. Taking regular breaks away from your screen can work wonders for reducing dryness.
Try artificial tears
These are available without a prescription as drops, gels and ointments that help to lubricate your eyes and relieve symptoms of dryness. There is no evidence that any particular type or brand is better – just use whichever suits you best. Drops and gels can be used through the day, but ointments are best applied at night as they can cause your vision to blur.
Occasionally, some people may find that certain ingredients can lead to irritation. If in doubt, ask your pharmacist or optician for advice.
According to Healthline, if you use artificial tears daily (more than four times per day long term), you should use a preservative-free brand. This is because the preservatives found in many drops can cause sensitivity. If you wear contact lenses, check that any drops, gels or ointments are suitable for you.
Swap your contact lenses for glasses
Wearing glasses gives your eyes a much-needed break.
Avoid environmental triggers
Irritants like wind, smoke, and pollen can worsen dry eye symptoms.
Would hormone replacement therapy (HRT) help?
Research on the risks and benefits of HRT for those experiencing dry eye symptoms is mixed. Some studies suggest that dry eyes improve with HRT, while others suggest that HRT makes dry eye symptoms more severe.
HRT can effectively treat other symptoms associated with menopause, such as hot flushes, mood changes, and sleep disturbance, among others.
HRT is not suitable for everyone. Speak to your doctor if you would like to find out more about the best treatment for you.
MENOPAUSE AND DRY EYES FAQs
Studies suggest that changes in the balance of sex hormones that occur during menopause can cause dry eye symptoms.
Reduced tear production can increase your likelihood of developing eye infections.
According to Healthline, prolonged dry eyes can lead to inflammation and abrasions on the surface of the eye.
Complications surrounding these abrasions can lead to pain, corneal ulcers, and vision problems.
See your doctor if you have symptoms of dry eyes which are not relieved by the simple changes listed above.
Seek urgent medical assistance if you have:
- Any changes to your eyesight including blurring, flashing lights, blindness or double vision
- Any moderate or severe eye pain
- Pain or discomfort on looking at lights (photophobia)
- Redness in the eye
- Symptoms which started suddenly
- Any other symptoms including fever, headache, vomiting
- Gen M: Dry eyes
- Healthline: Menopause and dry eyes
- Healthline: Over-the-Counter Eye Drops: Potential Risks
- Lowth Mary, Dry Eyes
- Lurati Ann R., Menopause and Dry Eye Syndrome, Nursing for Women’s health, Vol. 23, Issue 1, 2019, Pages 71-78
- Mayo Clinic: Sjogren’s syndrome
- Medical News Today: Dry eyes and menopause
- NHS: Dry eyes
- Peck, Travis et al. “Dry Eye Syndrome in Menopause and Perimenopausal Age Group.” Journal of mid-life health vol. 8,2 (2017): 51-54. doi:10.4103/jmh.JMH_41_17
- The North American Menopause Society: Menopause and Eye Health