By: Red Hot Mamas
Published: May 26, 2010
Menopause brings many types of physical changes to the female body. Eye problems, including dry eye syndrome commonly develops during this natural part of aging. Many women do not realize the prevalence of dry eye, or the interconnection between these symptoms and menopause.
According to the results of a recent web-based survey conducted by the Red Hot Mamas, 94 percent of respondents experience dry eye symptoms. Most participants (65 percent) were menopausal or postmenopausal.
“If you talk to a women experiencing menopause, they may talk to you about vaginal dryness. They do not make any correlation to any other type of dryness that they may be experiencing in other parts of their body, particularly in their eyes,” says Karen Giblin, founder of Red Hot Mamas.
“Estrogen deficiency decreases fluid production not only in the vagina, but also in the eyes. It makes excellent sense to educate women about dry eyes at menopause. Women should be aware that there are a wide range of menopausal symptoms which are beyond the typical hot flashes and vaginal dryness. Dry eye syndrome is certainly another measurable physical happening and reduces the quality of life for women at menopause,” continues Giblin.
Dry eye syndrome is a condition that occurs when the eye does not produce enough tears or the tears have a chemical composition that causes them to evaporate too quickly. The condition is more common in women, possibly due to hormonal fluctuations. Dry eyes are part of the natural aging process that continues to intensify through postmenopause.
Certain medications, contact lenses and environmental factors can contribute to dry eyes. It can also be a symptom of systemic diseases such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, rosacea or Sjogren’s syndrome.
Chronic dry eye affects an estimated 20.7 million people in the United States and is one of the most common reasons that people visit their eye doctors. Nearly 40 percent of Americans experience symptoms of dry eye on a regular basis and menopausal women are one of the largest groups of people affected.
The Red Hot Mamas in conjunction with Alimera Sciences surveyed 582 women through the www.redhotmamas.org website to determine the prevalence of dry eye symptoms among a cohort of menopausal symptoms along with assess physician and patient awareness of dry eye syndrome at the time of menopause.
The women interviewed visited an Ob/Gyn or Family Practitioner annually (54 percent) but eye symptoms were seldom discussed. Fifty-three percent of the women who experienced eye symptoms discussed them with a healthcare provider. And, only 3 percent of the women mentioned the symptoms to their Ob/Gyn.
Communication is a two-way street. Only 5 percent of the women who visited their Ob/Gyn annually were asked questions regarding dry eyes when recording their medical history related to menopause. Consequently, they are not aware of the relationship of menopause and dry eyes.
“Few women will discuss their eye with you, but eye diseases increase with increasing age,” recognizes Dr. Wolf Utian, executive director and honorary founding president of the North American Menopause Society. “At the very least, menopause-related healthcare providers need to draw attention to these potential problems, and apprise women of the need for regular eye examinations,” Utian explains in his Menopause Management1 editorial on dry eyes and menopause for healthcare providers.
Another aspect of the Red Hot Mamas survey asked questions regarding dry eye treatments. Results show that the women who seek advice from healthcare providers usually follow recommendations for treating their eye symptoms and find relief with OTC eye drops or ointments.
If left untreated, dry eye syndrome can lead to more serious problems including impaired vision and an increased risk of eye infections. Sixty-two percent of the respondents did not know the ramifications of dry eye syndrome if left untreated.
The Red Hot Mamas wants women and clinicians to be aware of dry eye as a symptom of menopause. Dry eye may have a significant impact on women’s quality of life and they need to be aware of treatment options available and ramifications if left untreated.
Women and their healthcare providers need more and better resources about menopause and dry eye syndrome. Even the limited information that is currently available is not distributed. It’s beneficial for a woman and her healthcare provider to create an individual health plan and to make therapeutic adjustments that are required over time. Better informed decisions and improved quality of life would result.
Albietz, J., Dry Eye: an update on clinical diagnosis, management and promising new treatments. Clinical and Experimental Optometry 84.1 January–February, 2001.
Market Scope. Report on the Global Dry Eye Market. St. Louis, Mo: Market Scope, July 2004.
Schaumberg D, Sullivan D, Buring J, Dana R. Prevalence of dry eye syndrome among U.S. women. Am J Ophthalmol. 2003;136:318–326.
Utian, W. H., 2004, “Menopause Hormones and the Eye”; Menopause Management, January/February, pp. 6-7.