How The Menopause Can Impact Your Eyes
Menopause, much like entering puberty, comes with hormonal disruptions that change a woman's body and behaviour.
Some of the first visible side effects are hot flushes, weight gain, and acne, accompanied by behavioural symptoms like mood swings, insomnia, and brain fog.
The above are the most common symptoms women have to deal with, while the full list includes 34 signs, including eye health issues.
Ahead of World Menopause Day on 18 October, Nimmy Mistry, professional services optician at Vision Direct
explains how dry eyes, corneal changes, increased risk of glaucoma and even cataracts are tied to menopause, and offers tips on how to look after your eyesight during this midlife transition.
Menopausal hormone shifts and eye health
The biggest shift in menopause is due to a reduction in the production of oestrogen, a hormone that plays a crucial role in the sexual and reproductive system. It’s also important for proper functioning of the neuro-endocrine, vascular, skeletal and immune systems.
Oestrogen levels significantly drop during menopause, which can negatively impact the health of your eyes. Dry eyes and potential visual changes are the most common side effect of menopause, with research suggesting an increased risk of developing cataracts and glaucoma.
Dry eyes syndrome: from burning sensation to blurry eyes
Stinging, burning or a scratching sensation in the eyes, mild light sensitivity, sensation of having something “stuck” in the eye, watery eyes and even blurred vision are all common symptoms of dry eye syndrome.
Dry eyes have become a common modern-day condition due to the screen-attached lifestyle that negatively impacts the production of tears. But, women entering menopause experience the syndrome due to the drop in production of oestrogen. Through altering the synthesis of oils, this negatively impacts the quality of the human tear film, such as reduced moisture.
In fact, in a survey with 6,000 menopausal women, 26% of them said that they experienced dry eyes, making it the second most common surprising menopause symptom.
Menopause: Time for a new prescription
Moreover, hormonal shifts such as those experienced in the menopause can contribute to changes in vision acuity and visual comfort. Some women may experience fluctuations in their prescription for eyeglasses or contact lenses during menopause.
Again, a lack of oestrogen is primary cause. Low oestrogen levels reduce the elasticity of the cornea, thereby altering the light travelling into our eyes.
Along with a possible need for a new prescription, undiagnosed or untreated visual changes can lead to eye strain, headaches, and even posture issues due to constant squinting or adjusting focus.
Lack of oestrogen can cause cataracts
Symptoms of blurred, cloudy vision with diminished contrast and perception of colour that persist while wearing contact lenses or glasses may also be a sign of cataracts - the clouding of the eye’s crystalline lens.
Cataracts, most prevalent in the ageing eye, can also come about due to injury or trauma of the eye. Recent studies are also being conducted to check for correlations between cataract and reduction in oestrogen levels.
Optician’s 7 tips for keeping your eyes healthy during menopause
Menopause is a natural process in every woman’s life, and can’t be stopped, but there are proactive steps that everyone going through the hormonal shifts can take to mitigate potential issues occurring with your eyes.
Hydration, inside and outside:
Even though the cause of dry eyes in menopause is the lack of oestrogen production, inadequate hydration can also contribute to the condition. Drinking plenty of water can help alleviate discomfort and promote ocular health. Also, as we approach the winter months it is important to remember that dry air when indoors can affect eyes, so it’s a good idea to get a humidifier.
More hydration from artificial tears:
Having hydrating eye drops, or artificial tears, on hand will allow you to manage the discomfort of dry eyes. If you’re sensitive or allergic to preservatives, opt for a preservative-free product.
Increase intake of fatty acids that improve eye health:
Studies have found that omega-3-rich foods, such as fatty fish like salmon, flaxseeds, and walnuts (or taking supplements) may reduce your risk of developing, and potentially slow down the progression and/or symptoms associated with retinal and dry eye disease. Incorporating this essential nutrient into your diet reaps benefits for your eye health. Be sure to consult your doctor or pharmacist prior to taking any Omega-3 supplements.
Follow the 20-20-20 rule regarding screen time:
If your workplace or lifestyle includes a lot of screen time, make sure you’re incorporating the 20-20-20 rule into your daily routine. This involves looking away from the screen every 20 minutes to look for 20 seconds at a fixed point 20 feet away. This exercise will not only enforce screen breaks, but alleviate eye strain and reduce any symptoms of dryness.
Wear UV-protective sunglasses:
Protection against UV radiation is key especially in the ageing eye as it helps reduce the onset and progression of cataracts. With recent studies linking reduced oestrogen levels to cataracts, women undergoing these hormonal changes should be keeping sunglasses handy all year round as a preventative measure.
Getting enough sleep:
Insomnia is one of the most common menopause symptoms, and trying to get it under control can help with eye health. During sleep the eyes rest and repair and this is essential in maintaining eye health and reducing symptoms of potential dryness
Regular eye exams:
Visual changes and degeneration of the eye progress slowly with age. Attending your regular eye exams can help detect changes in vision and address any emerging issues promptly before they have a further impact on your eyesight.