Hardly seems fair when everywhere else on your body may be producing lots of water in terms of flushing and sweats, but apparently at menopause one area that can be lacking in moisture is your eyes.
At least a third of us will experience dry eye syndrome at some point and, like much else, it becomes more common as we get older age.
Why do we need moisture?
Although we tend to think of tears as just salt water they are part of an amazingly complex system to keep our eyes lubricated.
When we blink, the lid pushes tears across the eye towards two tiny holes in the inner corner of the eye which drain into channels which connect the eye with the nose.
To ensure our tears don’t evaporate too quickly and are retained long enough to provide a protective film across the eye, another set of glands secrete a mixture of oil and mucus which accumulates in the grooves between the eyeball and the eyelids. This is known as the tear film, which also stops tears spilling over onto the cheeks.
The tear film has three distinct layers made from oil, water and mucus, and it important for eye health on several levels:
• It traps and flushes out any foreign bodies or chemicals.
• It contains antibacterial compounds which inhibit the growth of any harmful microorganisms
• It acts as a lubricant to reduce surface friction as we blink.
Symptoms of dry eyes
Dry eye is a term used to describe a variety of eye conditions that can occur when there is a problem with the tear film that normally keeps eyes moisturised. If this is not happening then that can cause damage to the eye surface.
The hormonal changes that occur in menopause mean that women can start to be affected by this condition. Have you noticed any of these recently?
– excessive tears/moisture
– a scratching/gritty feeling in your eyes
Of course some eye conditions are merely temporary as a result of an allergy or accident. If you have ever missed your eyelashes with your mascara wand and hit the eyeball you will be familiar with this, but true dry eye is not temporary and can be a long term problem.
Is it serious?
The combination of discomfort, visual disturbance, grittiness in the eye and the disruption to the tear film which guards it, can have a significant impact on quality of life.
If you don’t treat it then you could have a continuing cycle of symptoms as the dryness and discomfort promote inflammation. Once that occurs it can lead to further pain and problems.
Dry eye can also be made worse by air conditioning and, more likely for most of us, the overuse of computer screens, tabets and smartphones. Gazing for more than 20 minutes at any of these devices affects our blink rate and that is what keeps our eyes moist and refreshed.
What can help?
If you do spend time looking at screens then check your blink rate. Apparently when on these devices we tend to ‘half blink’ rapidly rather than a full sweep down to over the lid, and that is what keeps our eyes lubricated.
So make sure you fully blink 20 times or gaze into the distance for 20 seconds after 20 minutes of screen time to refresh your eyes and always take frequent breaks away from the screen.
There are several specialist products that can help lubricate the eye if you think you may have this problem. Bausch + Lomb have been producing eyecare products since 1853, and produced the first sunglasses for military use in World War I. They are have developed an innovative day and night treatment solution for dry eyes: Artelac® Rebalance and Ar-telac® Nighttime Gel which your optician or pharmacist can tell you more about or offer other alternatives suitable for your specific needs.
If you think you may have signs of low oestrogen, such as dryness, then you may want to consider using a combination cream such as 20-1. This has the protective benefits of progesterone in balance with two natural oestrogens to help with dryness and lubrication.