Dry eyes and menopause demystified
- Dry eyes can be a hidden menopause symptom
- Hormone changes during the perimenopause and menopause can affect tear film production
- Practical advice on how to treat and manage dry eyes
Noticed that your eyes are feeling drier and grittier lately? It could be dry eye syndrome.
In a survey of almost 6,000 women to coincide with the release of balance founder Dr Louise Newson’s book, the Definitive Guide to the Perimenopause and Menopause, almost three quarters (74%) of respondents admitted to experiencing surprising or unexpected menopause symptoms .
And one in four (26%) of women who took part in the poll said they experienced dry eyes, making it the second most common surprising menopause symptom.
Here, balance takes a closer look at dry eye syndrome, its link to menopause and how to manage it.
What is dry eye syndrome?
Every time you blink, your eyes release a tear film made up of water, oil and mucous that covers and lubricates your eyes.
When you don’t produce enough of this substance, your eyes can feel dry, you may experience stinging, a gritty feeling (like you have something in your eye) or blurry vision.
And despite the name, watery eyes can also be a symptom of dry eye syndrome.
Why might I get dry eyes during the perimenopause and menopause?
As you get older, tear production decreases, but estrogen also plays a part in tear-film production.
Recent research also suggests that testosterone can help to manage the delicate balance of tear production, so fluctuating levels can also contribute to dry eyes .
What else can cause dry eyes?
According to the NHS, other factors which can cause dry eyes include:
- being over the age of 50
- wearing contact lenses
- looking at computer screens for a long time without a break, which can lead to eye strain
- spending time in air conditioned or heated environments
- windy, cold or dusty conditions
- smoking or drinking alcohol, both of which can dehydrate your body
- certain medicines, such as some antidepressants or blood pressure medication
- health conditions, such as blepharitis, Sjögren’s syndrome or lupus.
How can I treat and protect against dry eyes?
Don an eye mask: a warm compress or eye mask applied to closed eyelids can help to loosen any blocked oil in the glands along the eyelid that supply oil into your tears.
Keep your peepers clean: carefully cleaning your eyelids can help to remove debris and bacteria – the NHS.uk website has a good guide here.
Eye drops: using preservative-free dry eye drops can also ease the symptoms of dry eyes.
Try and limit screen time: when you are using a screen, you blink less, which can make your eyes drier. Try and take a screen break at least once every hour.
Protect your eyes from the elements: cold weather and wind can cause tears to evaporate too quickly and exacerbate dry eyes. Wraparound sunglasses can help protect your eyes, particularly if out running or cycling. If you are a contact lens wearer, speak to your optician about ones that will help to keep your eyes more moist, and keep a pair of glasses to give yourself some contact-lens-free days.
Be aware of your triggers. Do contact lenses, smoky atmospheres or pollen make your eyes itch? Keep a record of your triggers and try to avoid them where practically possible. The balance menopause support app allows you to record the type, severity and duration of symptoms.
How’s your humidity? A humidifier in your home can help to keep your eyes moist, so your tears won’t evaporate as quickly.
Take a closer look at your diet: Omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in oily fish and eggs, and vitamin A (found in eggs and dairy) can both encourage healthy tear production.
It’s important to see an optician or GP if you still have dry eyes after trying home treatments for a few weeks, or you notice any change in the shape of your eyelids.
1. Newson, L., Lewis, R., Reisel, D. (2023), ‘Distressing, debilitating and embarrassing: surprising symptoms and the need for holistic approach to menopause care’
2. Peck, T. et al. (2017), ‘Dry eye syndrome in menopause and perimenopausal age group’, Journal of Mid – life Health, 8(2), pp. 51–4. doi:10.4103/jmh.JMH_41_17