10 Apr 2013
Increasingly dry eyes are a surprisingly common symptom of menopause.
Dry eye is one of those things that I didn't know was connected with menopause - until I got it. Oh joy, ANOTHER delightful symptom to go with the hot flushes, the night sweats, the weight gain, the facial hair...
When I was first struck with this a couple of months back, I thought it was conjunctivitis, to which I am prone. I had an eye accident as a child, and I'm a bit paranoid about my eyes, so I high-tailed it down to the chemist and got my antibiotic cream and drops. But the problem was back again a few weeks later, so I started doing my internet research.
In retrospect, I should have it this coming. For some years now, I've used a product called Lacrigel - artificial tears - at night in winter, and we have to keep big pots of water on top of the stove to keep the air moist. I've never been able to wear contact lenses for any length of time, even disposable ones, and couldn't wear the old-style hard lenses at all (they gave me a deoxygenated cornea and I ended up in Moorfields).
I've also always had to take care with eyemakeup, avoiding mica and glitter, and flaking mascaras because my eyes are very sensitive. But for some reason, the idea of getting 'dry eye' never occurred to me.
It is, however, apparently very common in menopause, due not to the loss of oestrogen but the loss of androgens, which also fall off a cliff at this time. The chemist also informs me that blue eyes are inherently more fragile. And of course, I have ulcerative colitis, which as an auto-immune disease can also affect the eyes.
My dry eye is apparently mild. On a good day I can't feel it (which is usually for an hour or two after I put the gel in). In between, it feels like I have soap or lemon juice in my right eye (the one that's scarred from my operation). On a worse day, it's like a hair scratching the eyeball and it starts to get bloodshot around the iris and leading to the tear duct. And when it's bad, especially at night, it feels like my eyes are hot boiled eggs rolling around in my head, with excruciating stabbing pains scything through the eyeball, the socket and into my temple and cheek.
Treatment, for the moment, is mainly a question of management. Lots of blinking, applying gel 4-6 times a day, resting my eyes whenever possible (audiobooks are looming now, rather than reading my Kindle). Each time I finish a blog or a story for work, I close my eyes for 30 seconds or so. Warm compresses over my eyes, carefully cleaning my eyes each morning with cotton-wool pads, and sunglasses during the day when needed. A swim mask at the pool with a good silicone seal to keep the drops out. Avoiding reading all the damn time, as I do in bed, in the bath, at the doctor's surgery - instead, TED talks or audiobooks. I try to stay hydrated, and I'm taking omega-3 oils again.
But it's a long wait here to see an ophthalmologist. The first one I tried, it was an eight-month waiting list. The second was four months. In the UK, I could see an optometrist the same week, if not the same day, but here in rural France it's a different story. It will be late July before I can get a specialist opinion on this.
But I am coping, and just have to hope that it doesn't get worse, either in the meantime or at all. If it does, then apparently there are other options such as punctal plugs, which stop your tears running down your nose and redirect them back to your eyes.
Something to look forward to!