Hint: 61% of Women Over 50 Have It but Few Know Menopause Causes It
Women’s eyes have been the subject of poems and songs throughout the ages. How ironic that many women, with eyes so lovely to look at, reach middle age with blurred vision!
Dry, itchy eyes and blurred vision are symptoms of menopause experienced by many women. While the lower levels of estrogen that bring on menopause used to be considered the cause of this “Dry Eye Syndrome,” it’s now known this isn’t true. According to the Review of Ophthalmology, research in recent years has led scientists to suspect that androgens, not estrogen, play the most important role. Both men and women have androgens, which are sex hormones, but as people age, their levels decrease. It’s now thought that since women have lower levels of androgens to begin with than men do, decreases in these hormones could leave women with less than what they need, causing dry eyes.
Men can experience Dry Eye Syndrome, too, but are much less likely to have it than women. According to the National Eye Institute (NEI) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), almost five million Americans 50 years of age and older are estimated to have dry eye. Of these, twice as many women are affected.
The discomfort from Dry Eye Syndrome is caused when the eyes don’t produce enough tears, tears that evaporate too quickly or aren’t the right consistency. According to the National Institute of Health, tears are necessary because they protect, nourish and bathe the surface of the eyes. The symptoms of Dry Eye Syndrome can be mild and occur infrequently, but they may be constant and difficult to cope with. Permanent loss of vision from dry eyes is uncommon. However, the National Eye Institute (NEI) notes that women who enter menopause prematurely are more prone to experience damage to the surface of their eyes from dry eyes.
While Dry Eye Syndrome is experienced by most menopausal women, many who experience this annoying problem don’t connect it to the hormonal changes they are experiencing. According to the Society for Women’s Health Research, about 61 percent of menopausal women suffer from dry, itchy eyes, but only 16 percent of them know it’s one of the most common symptoms of menopause.
Symptoms of Dry Eye Syndrome
According to the National Eye Institute, the symptoms of dry eye syndrome include the following:
- Stinging or burning in the eyes
- A feeling that something sandy or gritty is in the eye
- Excess tears produced after a period of very dry eyes
- Eye pain and redness
- Occurrences of blurred vision
- “Heavy eyelids”
- Inability to cry when feeling emotionally stressed
- Feeling uncomfortable when wearing contact lenses
- Feeling eye fatigue and having less tolerance when reading, working on the computer, or from other activities that require sustained visual attention
What to Avoid and How to Minimize Dry Eye Discomfort
Since there appears to be a connection between changing hormone levels and women’s dry eye symptoms, you’d think that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) used to treat other symptoms of menopause would reduce symptoms of dry eyes, but the reverse is true. HRT may increase a woman’s risk of dry eyes or worsen dry eye symptoms.
Laser vision correction surgery, both LASIK and PRK, can make dry eyes worse, according to AllAboutVision.com. Certain prescription medications, such as diuretics and anti-depressants, have that effect as well. It’s important to tell your doctor about dry eye symptoms so that they are taken into consideration in your medical treatment. It’s also very important to have an eye examination once a year by a qualified doctor. (This is not the same as going to an optician for a glasses prescription. A visit with an ophthalmologist, an M.D. with an advanced degree in ophthalmology, will include the medical tests you need to assess the health of your eyes.)
A thorough eye exam can eliminate more serious causes of dry eyes, such as autoimmune diseases, that need to be carefully watched and treated by a physician. Your ophthalmologist may suggest lubricating eye drops, some which can be bought over the counter in a drugstore, and others that are available by prescrip