by Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP
What symptoms do you think of when it comes to menopause? Hot flashes, insomnia, vaginal dryness, mood swings, fatigue, headaches — all the usual suspects, right? Yet one symptom affects more than 60% of women and they don’t even know it’s connected to menopause: dry eyes. And more often than not, other imbalances that affect the eye are also at work but only become evident when hormones begin to fluctuate.
Eyes are the windows of the soul, it’s said. But in my experience they are also windows into your physiology and can turn dry, itchy, red, and irritated in, literally, the blink of an eye. Symptoms of dry eye are an invaluable warning that something deeper is brewing in your system and needs to be looked at — a truth many Eastern practitioners have known for millennia.
Yet conventional medicine continues to tell us that dry eye is an isolated condition, one that is best served by covering up the symptoms with drops or blocking the eye’s tear drainage system. At Women to Women, we’ve had tremendous success treating dry eye from the inside out. So let’s take an up-close look at dry eye because it can affect so many of us and learn how to restore balance to the body and the eyes.
Symptoms of dry eye
Temporary mild symptoms of tired, itchy, or red eyes that abate with sleep, a change in environment, or taking your contact lenses out can be chalked up to obvious culprits. But worsening or persistent symptoms should be taken seriously. They include:
- a scratchy or gritty feeling
- tears running down the cheeks
- increasingly tired eyes during the day
- irritation from smoke, wind, or air movement
- stringy mucus
- sensitivity to light
- problems wearing contact lenses
If dry eye is left untreated, the cornea can become scarred or develop ulcers. Infection can also become more common because eye fluids help carry away debris. Vision can be affected, and you may feel chronic eye pain. But getting to the real cause of the condition can take some sleuthing.
What causes dry eyes?
Dry eyes can develop for two reasons: insufficient oil production by the meibomian glands (found in the inner eyelids) or too much evaporation of the eye’s watery tears. Most people with dry eyes are affected by both low oil and high evaporation. Symptoms of dry eye are also common with certain auto-immune disorders, like diabetes, arthritis, lupus, and Sjögren’s syndrome.
If you think you may have dry eye, call your healthcare practitioner and schedule a medical evaluation of your eyes. You will also be asked a number of questions about your lifestyle and habits. Lifestyle factors that contribute to dry eyes include:
- Looking at computers or reading without blinking often enough to redistribute eye fluid
- Living and working in dry places
- Wearing contact lenses that absorb eye fluids
- Having LASIK surgery, which cuts eye nerves, reducing impulses for blinking
- Taking medications like allergy pills, diuretics, beta-blockers, birth control pills or other drugs that dry out the body
- Diets that don’t provide sufficient essential fatty acids or anti-inflammatory foods
- Droopy eyelids or certain health conditions, particularly autoimmune disorders like diabetes, arthritis, lupus, and Sjögren’s syndrome, which also causes dryness in the mouth.