All women at some point experience menopause, marking the end of the reproductive phase of a woman’s life. The process is a “holistic condition” meaning it brings with it all manner of changes to virtually every part of a woman’s body – and the eyes are no exception. Older women are particularly vulnerable to eye problems.
Considering that 90 per cent of blindness or vision impairment is treatable or preventable, it’s especially important that women going through ‘the change’ have a regular check-up with their optometrist to ensure early detection and treatment of any problems.
Dry eye disease (DED)
Dry eye disease is an inflammation of the ocular surface which causes pain and discomfort including burning and itching sensations, poor vision, mucous discharge and the aggravating feeling of having a foreign body on the surface of the eye. According to an article published in Journal of Mid-Life Health, DED is particularly prevalent among menopausal and post-menopausal women, with studies in the United States showing that more than twice as many women over 50 years of age suffer from DED as compared to men. While it seems that changes in sex hormone levels can contribute to DED, the reasons as to why or how are unclear. What is clear is that a comprehensive dry eye examination should be sought from an optometrist, who can recommend a tailored range of treatments from over-the-counter and prescription medications to procedures like Intense Pulsed Light therapy, dietary changes and special eyewear.
According to a United Nations report (2014), cataracts are the cause of one-in-three visual impairments. Often described as cloudiness of the eye’s lens, cataracts typically take decades to develop but affect eyesight dramatically, especially night vision. Research published in Current Eye Research (2015) said that, as with DED, the propensity for older women to be affected could be due to the decrease in estrogen associated with menopause. Smoking, diabetes and exposure to ultraviolet light are also associated with cataracts, so if you spent the ‘60s and ‘70s eating ice cream and smoking cigarettes at the beach, a trip to the optometrist is definitely recommended.
Glaucoma is the name for eye diseases where vision loss is caused by damage to the optic nerve. According to Glaucoma Australia, 300,000 people in Australia have the disease which is characterised by loss of peripheral vision. As many as half of the people with glaucoma aren’t even aware they have it as the condition progresses slowly, without noticeable symptoms or warning signs. The most common cause of optic nerve damage is raised intraocular pressure with research published in Menopause suggesting a loss of estrogen may be linked to the condition. Untreated, glaucoma leads ultimately to blindness. Treatment, however, can slow the process down, so early detection is critical. The only way to know if you have glaucoma is by getting an examination from your optometrist.
Age-related macular degeneration
The leading cause of vision loss among people over 60 is Age-related Macular Degeneration. In contrast to glaucoma, AMD affects our central vision, obscuring the very thing you would be trying to focus on. Abnormal blood vessels grow under the macula, and can rupture and bleed, leading to symptoms such as blurred central vision, blind spots, difficulty adjusting to light changes and poor depth perception. Regular eye tests and macular checks are key to that all-important early diagnosis which could save your sight.