One symptom of menopause you don’t hear much about is dry eyes. Yet if you are among the many women who experience this irritating condition, you’ll want to read on.
What is dry eyes?
Dry eyes is a condition caused by problems with tears. Everyone has a layer of tears composed of water, mucus, and oil that lubricates the eyes. When the body doesn’t make enough tears, tears evaporate, or when they aren’t able to properly lubricate the eyes, you can experience a stinging, burning, gritty feeling in your eyes. You may even have blurry vision.
Dry eyes can be caused by a variety of conditions. In addition to hormonal changes associated with menopause, dry eyes can occur with aging, certain medical conditions (e.g., rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, thyroid disorders, Sjogren’s syndrome), use of certain medications (e.g., antihistamines, decongestants, antidepressants, drugs for acne and high blood pressure), eye allergies, exposure to wind or smoke, dry winter weather, vitamin A deficiency, preservatives in topical eye drops, and contact lens use.
What causes dry eyes in menopause?
Dry eyes can develop during menopause, but postmenopausal women are especially at risk. Although the exact association is not clear, estrogen and androgens have an impact on tear production. In fact, it appears that androgens have a particular role. Women have lower levels of androgens than men do (and men also experience dry eyes), and those levels decline after menopause, which could be a player in tear production.
Dry eyes can be more severe in some women. In a recent study, experts described dry eye disease (DED), which is characterized by eye pain, discomfort, and reduced visual acuity. Although both men and women can get DED, it is most common among menopausal and postmenopausal women. In some cases it can be debilitating, although it is preventable and treatable.
How to treat dry eyes in menopause naturally
You can take a variety of steps to help prevent and treat dry eyes. Here are some tips.
- Get more omega-3s. These fatty acids can help promote the production of tears. Foods rich in omega-3s include tuna, salmon, walnuts, flaxseeds, and herring.
- Enjoy vitamin A. This nutrient is known for promoting eye health, especially the cornea and conjunctival membranes.
- Limit screen exposure. Staring at a computer screen for prolonged periods can contribute to dry eyes because we tend to “forget” to blink. Take periodic breaks and remind yourself to blink by putting a note on the side of your computer screen.
- Wear sunglasses. Sunglasses that wrap around the eyes can protect against the drying effect of wind and sun.
- Try compresses. You can reduce irritation and loosen oils that may be clogging your tears by placing a warm washcloth over your closed eyes for about a minute. Gently massage the edge of your eyelid with your finger to dislodge the oils. Rewarm the cloth and repeat several times.
- Avoid contacts. Use of contacts can contribute to dry eyes. A switch to eyeglasses can be helpful.
- Use a humidifier. Placing a humidifier in your home or office can help keep your eyes moist.
- Avoid irritants. Common irritants such as smoke, pollen, and other airborne particles should be avoided as much as possible. If necessary, wear protective glasses or goggles, especially when biking or on the water.
when to see a health provider
If your eyes continue to be irritated and dry despite treatment efforts or if you experience eye pain, consult an eye doctor (ophthalmologist) to determine whether there is an underlying problem. Chronically dry eyes can increase your risk of eye infection, inflammation, and abrasions on the eye surface.
Dry eyes frequently develop during perimenopause and menopause as hormone levels change. Relief can often be achieved using natural remedies and lifestyle adjustments.