My post on crying got a lot of us thinking about emotions. But one comment I received from Nancy (“My optometrist told me that we actually need testosterone as well as estrogen to produce tears, which is why many women develop dry eye as they age and as the hormone levels plummet”) got me thinking about another aspect of tears: the lack of them as it relates to menopause. Indeed, hormones play a significant role in lubricating our eyes.
As if itâ€™s not enough to deal with headaches, hot flashes, insomnia, hot flashes mood swings, fatigueâ€¦it a wonder we survive menopause. But we do.
Menopause – and the years leading up to it – can introduce us to this condition, where our eyes get dry. Very dry. Redness, irritation, stinging, burning â€“ thatâ€™s dry eye. Feeling like you want to rip your contact lenses out of your eyes because itâ€™s so uncomfortable to wear them â€“ that could be it, too. Other symptoms:
Stringy mucus in or around your eyes
Increased eye irritation from smoke or wind
Eye fatigue after short periods of reading
Sensitivity to light
Periods of excessive tearing
Blurred vision, often worsening at the end of the day or after focusing for a prolonged period
Last year at my annual wellness exam, I mentioned some of these symptoms to my physician. He thought for a moment and then added an additional blood test to the mix, to check for autoimmune diseases. Why? Because dry eyes can sometimes be common with certain disorders like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, scleroderma and Sjogrenâ€™s syndrome. It can also point to thyroid disorders and Vitamin A deficiency.
Thankfully, I turned out not to have any autoimmune diseases â€“ just the garden variety dry eye. Ironic, coming from a natural-born crybaby. Where are the tears when I need them??
Even if menopause may not be to blame for dry eye, be aware of these other culprits:
Certain drugs to treat high blood pressure, such as diuretics
Antihistamines and decongestants
Birth control pills
Pain relievers, like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve)
Isotretinoin-type drugs to treat acne
Okay, why all the fuss? Well, besides being a major interruption in your everyday routine, dry eye can lead to complications like more frequent eye infections or in more severe cases, scarring on your eyeâ€™s surface, which can lead to vision problems down the line.
The best line of defense is prevention. People may think Iâ€™m making a fashion statement when I wear my sunglasses outside on a cloudy day, but Iâ€™m not. They help protect my eyes from the wind, which is so, so irritating and drying to my eyes.
Other ways you can protect your eyes:
Direct hair dryers, car heaters, air conditioners or fans away from your eyes
Protect your eyes with goggles when you swim
Take periodic breaks during long bouts of reading or computer work. You can close your eyes for a few minutes or even blink repeatedly for a few seconds â€“ thatâ€™ll help spread your tears evenly over your eye
Stop smoking (I truly hope you donâ€™t smoke!) and avoid smoke, which can worsen dry eye symptoms
Position your computer screen below eye level. If itâ€™s above eye level, itâ€™s likely you are opening your eyes wider to view it, which can contribute to dryness
Add moisture to the air. Try a humidifier in the winter, when the air is likely more devoid of moisture
This Matters> There is relief from itchy, dry eyes. You can try an over-the-counter eye drop (there are many varieties, so discuss them with your healthcare professional), wash your eyelids to control inflammation, or try adding omega-3 fatty acids to your diet either in supplement form or in foods like walnuts, salmon, flaxseed, canola or soybean oil.
Or, how about watching a real tear-jerker of a movie to get your eyes nice and lubricated (at least for the moment)? Some guaranteed to work: Marley & Me, The Notebook, Steel Magnolias, Terms of Endearment, Ghost, March of the Penguins (I donâ€™t know why, but that one really turned on the tears for me)â€¦I could go on and on. Chances are you have your own!