Four Ways Menopause Can Impact Eye Health

Published 03/21/2024
by buildcreate

The hormone changes that come with menopause can also cause changes in your eyes.

Hormones—chemicals, like estrogen and testosterone, that send messages throughout our bodies—can have subtle and far-reaching effects on our health, and can even impact our vision. So it’s no surprise that menopause, when most women’s bodies experience significant hormonal changes, can also cause changes in eye health.

During menopause, the ovaries slow down their hormone production, causing periods to eventually stop completely. As estrogen and other feminizing hormones drop, other tissues in the body change their behavior too, including the lenses and glands in and around our eyes. The results can range from blurry vision or dry eyes to an increased risk of cataracts.

Despite the fact that most women will go through menopause, the experience of menopause is still under-discussed, and its symptoms can catch some women by surprise. So this Women’s History Month, we want to raise awareness around a few of the health impacts of this common life event. With the right information, you can take early action to stay on top of your eye health—and to help you do that, here are four major ways that menopause can affect your vision.

1.    Blurry vision and contact lens discomfort

One of the ways that estrogen and progesterone affect the eyes is by making the lens more flexible. As these hormones decrease, the cornea becomes stiffer, which can change the shape of your eye, and affect how light refracts through it.

These cornea changes can show up in a number of ways. Since the physical shape of the eye can change, contact lens wearers especially might notice the difference. Lenses that used to be comfortable can suddenly fit less well, resting against the surface of your eye in a way that feels noticeable or irritating. You may need to try out new types of contact lenses, or consider switching to glasses.

You might also find that your vision is blurry or that focusing is hard, particularly when you’re switching between something far away and something near. The latter is called presbyopia, and makes it harder to focus your eyes on things that are closer to your face. Presbyopia is common with aging, regardless of gender, but the corneal changes that come with menopause can make it more noticeable. Reading glasses can help, as can progressive lenses and other multifocal options.

2.    Dry eyes

Hormonal changes also affect every aspect of tear production. Although they might seem like simple saltwater, tears are made up of several different fluids and oils secreted by glands around our eyes. Hormones help to determine the specific mixture of our tears, and changes in that mixture can result in too few tears, or tears that evaporate too quickly—and that means dry eyes.

Symptoms of dry eyes can include itching, burning, redness, and a feeling of grittiness or sandiness, among others. Without enough lubrication, it becomes easier to damage the lens of your eye, which can cause ulcers or scars that can impact your vision—in some cases, permanently. Fortunately, treatments for dry eyes exist, ranging from eye drops to prescription serums to hormone replacement therapy. Your care provider can help you determine which is the best fit for you.

3.    Increased risk of glaucoma and cataracts

We know that the risk of eye diseases like glaucoma and cataracts increases as we age, independent of gender. But research suggests that on top of age, menopause can also play a role.

Existing studies indicate that being female is an extra risk factor for developing cataracts, possibly due to menopause and its hormonal changes. One meta-analysis studied the use of hormone replacement therapy after menopause, and found that it may help to protect against cataracts as women age.

Another study in animals found that menopause is associated with an increase of pressure inside the eye—a major risk factor that ties together the collection of eye diseases called glaucoma. In the case of both glaucoma and cataracts, it’s clear that women experiencing menopause should be on the lookout for symptoms and stay up to date with their eye exams, in order to catch any problems early.

4.    Depression

At Heritage, we’ve made a habit of talking about the surprisingly broad ways that eye care can impact quality of life. We can especially see it in school-age children, who might suffer academic and behavioral setbacks if they can’t see the blackboard well or struggle to read their schoolwork. So it may not be a surprise that one study, based in Michigan as part of the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation, found that vision problems in midlife—like those that can occur during menopause—were associated with an increase in depressive symptoms in women.

Impaired vision can make it hard to live independently, can make everyday tasks more frustrating or even dangerous, and may be an indicator of other underlying health issues. That’s why early diagnosis and high-quality treatment are crucial—not just for the health of your eyes, but for the health of your whole body, including mental health. Regular eye exams can help to identify and, in some cases, prevent the conditions that could cause much bigger problems later, so make sure you’re taking advantage of them.

Menopause, and its impact on your health, doesn’t have to be a mystery.

Menopause happens eventually for around half of the human population. More research is being done every day on how the hormonal changes associated with it affect our bodies, and what we can do to stay healthier and happier throughout.

If you’re experiencing menopause and your vision is changing, or even if you’re not there yet but you have questions about what to expect, talk to your vision care provider. Our search tool can help you find a Heritage provider in your area, so that you can start getting the benefits of high-quality vision care right away.