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Dry eyes and the menopause

Updated: May 21

3 May 2023

The not-so-secret diary of a perimenopausal woman - dry eyes and the menopause

Just when you think you've got your head around this menopause thing and can confidently talk about the extensive list of symptoms, another one pops up out of nowhere. When I say pops up, it's not quite as simple as that. It took four interactions with health care professionals and my own extensive research to come to the conclusion that I was experiencing dry eye most likely as a result of the hormone changes during menopause.

A drawing of a blood shot eye with a blue iris and black pupil

It all started 10 days ago when I noticed that my left eye was red and felt quite bruised. I went to bed hoping that it would get better over night. I'd been in the garden and thought it might have been aggravated by pollen or something similar. No such luck. The next day it was even redder and more painful. I know, I'll check on NHS 1111. It suggested a call back from a nurse. Twenty minutes later a lovely nurse phoned and ended up booking me a call with my GP. Spoke to the GP who recommended a visit to the local eye hospital A&E in Brighton because of the pain I was experiencing. I didn't even know such a thing existed.

A trip to A&E for dry eyes

Not wanting to overburden the NHS, I waited overnight to see if it would clear up. It didn't. Having had experience of A&E departments before I packed a rucksack of provisions - food, drink, book, work and at the last minute, my sunglasses (you'll see why these were so essential later!). As it turns out most of my provisions were unnecessary as I was in and out in two hours, and for an hour of that I couldn't see....ooh the intrigue!

Got called in by the triage nurse after about 50 minutes. Yes, something's definitely not right, I'm concerned by the pain. You should see the ophthalmologist. Before you do, I'm just going to put some drops in your eye to dilate the pupils. It will sting a bit and your eyesight will be blurry for 6-8 hours. Oh, you're not driving are you - as she puts the drops in - you can't drive afterwards. Luckily not. If you've ever tried the beer goggles during a drug and alcohol awareness session - I used to do youth work - it was a bit like that. And my pupils were the size of dinner plates! Diagnosis? Something akin to an ulcer in my eye possibly caused by blepharitis - an infection caused by blocked oil glands which were potentially the result of dry eye. Prescription? Antibiotic eye ointment and artificial tear eye drops.

Blinded by the light!

A pair of black sunglasses

Right let's get out of here. Ooh, it's a bit bright - a rare sunny day. Glad I brought my sunglasses. Hmm, still can't see. OK, I kind of know where I'm going. Anyway, I managed to fumble my way on and off two buses and buy a takeaway coffee on the way home. By the time I got home I had a horrific headache. The whole experience gave me a short glimpse into the world of those who are visually impaired and experience light sensitivity.

I couldn't really do much for the rest of the day. I couldn't see very well at all, everything was too bright and I had to put ointment in my eyes every two hours. Thankfully I had an audio book to listen to. Woke up the next day hoping things would be back to normal bar an infected eye. As it turns out, the light sensitivity continued and it felt like someone was drilling between my temples. I persevered thinking it would get better, but by Friday lunchtime I couldn't take it any more.

A return trip to A&E

Reluctantly I went back to A&E. No pupil dilation this time, just dye and a numbing drop. Turns out I had a cyst that was causing the pain and discomfort - again probably caused by blocked oil glands. Two cotton swabs and a pointy needle later the cyst was drained and I was on my way with different eye drops. A couple of hours later the light sensitivity had eased enough for a trip to the pub.....things were definitely on the up, it was Friday evening after all!

So what is dry eye?

At no point did anyone explain to me about dry eye, what it is and what causes it. I understand, A&E is busy and they're just treating the symptoms. However, it does reinforce the current - but slowly improving - lack of knowledge amongst health professionals of the menopause. I'm a woman of a certain age presenting with symptoms caused by dry eye. Changing hormones can cause dry eye. I only found this out after the fact by doing my own research. This article from the Latte Lounge gives a bit more insight into menopausal dry eye, but here's a quick list of the symptoms you might notice:

  • itchy

  • sore

  • gritty

  • red

  • blurry

  • sensitive to light

  • more watery than normal

What can I do to look after my eyes?

There are a few things that I've discovered over the last few days. There are the 'artificial tear' drops that I was given by the hospital. You can buy those over the counter. Use them a few times throughout the day.

A hot compress will help to hydrate and sooth to dry eyes. The heat from the warm compress helps to open the oil glands, increase oil flow into the eyes and slow down tear evaporation. All you need is a clean face cloth which you've run under hot water. Lie down, fold the cloth up and place it over your eyes. Relax for 10 minutes - a good excuse hey!

A new one for me is Omega 7 sea buckthorn oil which can be taken as a supplement. It's good for all dryness caused by menopausal hormone change - particularly eyes, nose and intimate areas!

Most importantly, being kind to your eyes. Taking regular breaks away from all screens, reducing stress and getting your eyes checked regularly.

Enjoyed reading this?

If you'd like to read more of 'The not-so-secret diary of a menopausal woman', check out the rest of my posts here. Sign up and you'll receive each post direct to your inbox when they're published. I'd love to hear what you think and find out about your experiences, so please feel free to leave me a comment.

If you'd like to find out more about what I do to support women in midlife who want to rediscover their purpose and passions and start living the life they dream about, then please check out my website.

Until next time....

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