By Dr. Mary James, ND
You may not realize that dry eyes are a common symptom of menopause. More than 60% of menopausal women are dealing with this uncomfortable and persistent problem.
Here’s what you can do to help your eyes feel -- and look -- their best…
9 symptoms of dry eyes
Dry eyes during menopause have related symptoms that can bring on the sudden urge to touch or rub your eyes, which can end up making you feel even worse. These related symptoms include:
How hormonal imbalance causes dry eyesJust about every structure in the eye, including those responsible for making your tears — such as the lacrimal gland (producing the watery portion of tears) and the Meibomian gland (producing the oily portion of tears) — are influenced by your sex hormones.
The opposing effects of estrogen and androgens (such as testosterone) on tear production appear to reverse at menopause. Specifically, estrogen now appears to inhibit tear production and testosterone enhances it. With menopause, both hormones drop, but the decline in testosterone (already lower in women than men) may have a bigger effect now on your tear production.
When your eyes stay dry for too long, the result is localized, often painful, inflammation and damage to the surface of the eyeball. This immune response generates the release of various inflammatory substances that can make your eyes red, itchy and swollen. The onset of dry eyes often coincides with other symptoms in menopause, like sore joints, dry mouth and dry vaginal tissue.
Also keep in mind that the hormonal changes in perimenopause can trigger autoimmunity in susceptible women, which may include an unmasking of Sjögren’s syndrome, an autoimmune condition that causes dry eyes. If your symptoms are severe, and especially if you have another autoimmune condition, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, get evaluated by your doctor.
Restoring a natural balance between estrogen, progesterone and testosterone is an important, effective remedy for dry eyes, even if you rarely hear that in a conventional eye doctor’s office.
Factors that worsen your dry eyes
On top of menopausal hormone changes, there are other factors that can make your dry eyes worse:
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