Is Menopause Giving You Dry Eyes?

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Menopause may leave you feeling dry somewhere other than where you expected: your eyes!

Dry eye syndrome is a little-known symptom of menopause. Many  perimenopausal and menopausal women suffer from dry, itchy eyes. It’s time to change all that and start working our baby blues! (and browns and greens…)

“Many women going through menopause experience dry eye syndrome or exacerbation of their pre-existing symptoms,” says Dr. Sol Shaftel, M.D., Ph.D., an ophthalmologist and ophthalmic plastic and reconstructive surgeon.

Like with most symptoms of menopause, our hormones are likely to blame. Plummeting hormone levels are believed to affect the ocular tissues and the composition of tears your eyes produce, both of which can result in “Cheech and Chong”-style eyes. Common symptoms include dryness, light sensitivity, blurred vision, as well as burning, gritty, and sandy feelings (often called “foreign body sensation”). But don’t let watery eyes fool you! “Although teary eyes look like they are anything but dry, excessive tearing may be a sign that your eyes are desperately trying to make up for a lack of moisture,” according to Dr. Shaftel.

Some data suggests that hormone therapy (HT) may help alleviate symptoms, but the Women’s Health Initiative, which studied 25,665 women, found an increased risk of dry eye syndrome in women using HT, and especially estrogen. Basically, the jury is still out on HT’s exact role in dry eye syndrome.

Either way, if dry, scratchy, burning eyes trouble you, know that you can feel (and look!) better without any invasive medical interventions. “These symptoms can often be treated effectively with simple measures leading to major improvements in quality of life.  Successful treatment hinges on three major strategies: increasing lubrication, decreasing tear outflow, and reducing eyelid inflammatio,” explains Dr. Shaftel.

Ready for relief? Stop rubbing and try out these five easy remedies for dry eyes:

Avoid Environmental Triggers
“Wind, dry air, and pollutants can all contribute to dried-out eyes,” according to Dr. Shaftel. He further explained that while you can’t completely control your world (drat!), you can control how much havoc these elements wreck on those gorgeous eyes of yours. For instance, on windy days, wearing glasses or sunglasses can help block the wind from wicking your eyes dry. If your casa is as dry as your eyes, try a humidifier! It can bring serious relief to your eyes (not to mention to your skin!). Changing out or cleaning your air conditioner’s filter can also help keep eye-irritating pollutants from entering your home.

Try Over-the-Counter Eye Drops
These are my miracle fix! I use OTC eye drops as well as an OTC gel on my lower lids at night—and my eyes are just as happy as they were when my estrogen was at its all-time high. Per Dr. Shaftel, here’s a quick overview of the options out there: “tear substitutes, which are quick-acting, but provide only temporary relief; gel drops, which are longer-acting but can blur vision; gels, which are for nighttime use and will blur vision; and preservative-free formulations for those women who are allergic to preservatives. The option that’s best for you—and how many different ones you need to employ on a given day—largely depends on just how dry and miserable your eyes are. Start with tear substitutes and work your way up. Caution: Avoid “get the red out” and “clear eye” drops as these can cause rebound redness, inflammation, and dryness if used for prolonged periods,” warns Dr. Shaftel.

Take It Easy on Your Eyes
Blink, already! Being told to blink more might sound silly, but how often have you found yourself not blinking because you were enthralled in a book or a movie? Exactly. So when you must concentrate, lubricate your eyes. “Another way to take it easy on your peepers is to limit how many hours a day you wear your contact lenses,” Dr. Shaftel says.

After all, the sexy librarian look is in!

Eat Right
“Omega-3 fatty acids are good for more than your heart. They are also good for your eyes,” says Dr. Shaftel. The connection: Antioxidants. A 2011 study from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine found that eating unsaturated fatty acids can effectively treat dry eyes. Aim to eat at least two portions of fish a week, one of which should be oily fish such as salmon, tuna, or mackerel. Don’t like fish? Omega-3 fatty acids supplements can also do the trick.

Talk to Your Doc
When it comes to hormone (and eye!) happiness in menopause, the right experts can provide a one-two punch of relief. While you should tell your perimenopause and menopause specialist about any menopausal symptoms you experience, an ophthalmologist (eye surgeon) specializes in the anatomy, physiology, and diseases of the eye, and can help provide significant relief. “Early referral to an ophthalmologist is the most important step in getting patients the help they need,” Dr. Shaftel says. Your perimenopause and menopause specialist may even be able to give you a recommendation of a local eye doc that’s knowledgeable in the unique eye changes that occur during menopause.

Your perimenopause and menopause specialist may even be able to give you a recommendation of a local eye doc that’s knowledgeable in the unique eye changes that occur during menopause.

They say the eyes are the windows to the soul. So if those windows look and feel red, itchy, and altogether inhospitable, do something about it! You’ll never look back!

My Motto:  Suffering in silence is OUT!  Reaching out is IN!

Download my free eBook MENOPAUSE MONDAYS The Girlfriends Guide to Surviving and Thriving in Perimenopause and Menopause.

 

After struggling with her own severe menopause symptoms and doing years of research, Ellen resolved to share what she learned from experts and her own trial and error. Her goal was to replace the confusion, embarrassment, and symptoms millions of women go through–before, during, and after menopause–with the medically sound solutions she discovered. Her passion to become a “sister” and confidant to all women fueled Ellen’s first book, Shmirshky: the pursuit of hormone happiness. As a result of the overwhelming response from her burgeoning audiences and followers’ requests for empowering information they could trust, Ellen’s weekly blog, Menopause MondaysTM, was born.

  • Yes, it can happen to you? I thought I had a minor eye infection, perhaps a spider bite, but it turned out I had a clogged pore due to just this thing. My ophthalmalogist (sp) fixed me up with some Stridex-for-eyelids and eye drops.

    I would note, for those who primarily wear contact lenses like me, don’t use any OTC eyedrops unless your eye doctor approves them for use with contacts.

  • Thanks for the tip Beverly!

  • This was one of my first symptoms. Eye drops do wonders!

    • Ellen Dolgen

      Wow…Carol….that is interesting. It was not my first symptom…but boy was it annoying! I used the over the counter lubricant eye ointment on my lower lid at night. It was a miracle. Then, I started using this
      magic lash stuff is: Grande Lash -MD. Eye Lash Formula. I now have longer lashes and don’t need the lubricant eye ointment. I figure the Grand Lash Formula must have lube in it!

  • I had no idea my eye problems could be related to menopause. I thought I was developing more allergies.
    No more tears has helped so much!

  • Richard Miller

    Great article however something good to know is that an Optometrist is just as qualified to treat your dry eye as an ophthalmologist. Ophthalmologists are eye surgeons like your article stated but optometrists are more like primary eye care providers. Some optometrists have whole practices devoted to treating dry eyes!

    • Sol Shaftel

      I’m glad that you enjoyed the article. Optometrists are certainly capable of treating dry eye, but I respectfully disagree that they are “just as qualified” as ophthalmologists in doing so. Ophthalmologists are medical doctors and surgeons who undertake far more rigorous training and are uniquely capable of caring not only for a patients eyes but also for their general health. This training is critical when caring for patients in whom dry eye (or other symptoms) are linked to a general medical condition such as menopause.

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