How dry I am…

Posted by on Feb 25, 2011 in health, general, menopause | 1 comment

Bet you think I’m talking about vaginal dryness or dry skin. I’m not.

Actually, I am referring to another dry condition that affects women in peri and postmenopause: dry eye.

Yikes. Do women really need more dry in their lives?!

Dry eye affects almost 5 million people over age 50 and is one of the most common reasons for an eye doctor visit. It  is related to an imbalance in the tear system that interferes with the ability to produce tears, tear quality (meaning that it’s mostly water and less lubrication needed to moisturize and protect the eye) and function (meaning that the three layers of oil, water and mucus surrounding and protecting the eye — the tear film — starts to thin and loses its stability). This imbalance can lead to symptoms like itching, burning, irritation, redness, tearing, light sensitivity and blurred vision, as well as infection and injury.

Sounds like fun, right?

Even worse? Recent estimates suggest that dry about twice as common in women than in men, especially as they age. And while environmental factors like insufficient intake of fluids, excessive alcohol, excessive exposure to air conditioning or forced hot air and excessive bathing all contribute, one of the most important factor are the sex hormone receptors in the eye.

It’s true that sex hormones, namely estrogen, progesterone and testosterone, are produced by the ovaries in females. However, they are freely available to all tissues in the body, and in fact, regulate tissue in the eye as well. In fact, researchers are increasingly discovering that hormonal changes may directly influence certain eye disorders, and it is believed that the altered hormonal balance at and around menopause may affect tear production.

What can you do about dry eye?

Quite simply, the easiest way to combat dry eye is to hydrate! Lifestyle measures like drinking lots of water and other hydrating fluids, modifying alcohol intake, using humidifiers, avoiding too much air conditioned or heated air and not drying completely post-bathing before moisturizing can help. Practitioners also recommend the use of artificial tears, gels and ointments (not the type that “get the red out”) can help to increase the humidity of the surface of the eye and improve lubrication. If you are suffering from dry eye and using any medications, you should also speak to your doctor. Anticholinergic-containing drugs like Benadryl for example, can cause dry eye. Eyelid hygiene is also important as any offenders like infection or inflammation can just make things worse.

Importantly, taking hormone replacement therapy appears to worsen, not improve dry eye, especially as it relates to the ability to produce tears. This is especially true for women taking estrogen-only. Yet another reason to stay away from HRT.

There are prescription treatments for moderate to severe dry eye and at the extreme, surgery may required. The best course of action is to try some of the simpler measures and if they don’t work or if dry eye worsens, see your doctor.

I don’t know about you but I do see the humour in this, however deeply it may be hidden. Throughout menopause, many of us sweat and flash and produce all sorts of moisture. Except in the areas that matter most.

One Comment

  1. 3-4-2011

    Hmmmm, I don’t have dry eye problems. Lucky me! One less thing (as Forrest Gump would say)However, I do have all the other symptoms with the big M. But this too shall pass…right?


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