Almost everyone has experienced the feeling of dry eyes at some point in their life, however women have much higher rates of dry eye compared to men. In 2016, 11.4 million cases of dry eye syndrome were diagnosed in women compared to 5.2 million cases in men.
Dry eye syndrome is an extremely common symptom that occurs when your tears are not able to provide adequate lubrication, resulting in sore, irritated, burning, tired and red eyes.
There are a number of different factors that can cause dry eye syndrome, ranging from increased screen time, changes in climate or season, as well as medications such as antidepressants.
For women, medications such as the contraceptive pill can also cause dry eyes. The hormonal influence of the contraceptive pill affects the tear glands and how these glands function, leading to reduced or fluctuating quality of tears, hence dry eyes.
When it comes to females, one of the reasons women have higher rates of dry eye is a direct result of changes in progestogen and estrogen levels marked by certain phases of the menstrual cycle.
Often there are stages in a woman’s menstrual cycle where her eyes are drier as a result of heightened estrogen levels. This is typically during the follicular phase of a woman’s cycle, which starts on the first day of menstruation and ends with ovulation.
The mix of hormones that are in the contraceptive pill include estrogen and progesterone, which alters your regular cycle and hormone levels, and is why some women experience dry eyes after they first start taking the contraceptive pill.
Other hormonal factors that can trigger dry eye in females
- Menopause - After menopause, your body makes less reproductive hormones, like estrogen and progesterone, increasing your risk of dry eye syndrome significantly. Hormonal changes later in life may also contribute to an increased risk of cataracts, glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration.
- Pregnancy and Newborn days - Pregnancy hormones fluctuate constantly in a number of different ways and more often than not these hormones make your body produce fewer tears, thus causing dry eyes. In stark contrast to this, some pregnant women retain fluids and the side effects change the thickness and shape of their cornea. Women who suffer from this experience distorted vision however the condition usually goes away after they have the baby. For others, interrupted sleep and hormonal changes that continue to play a part in the early months of having a newborn baby, may continue to cause dry eye symptoms.
Women should speak to their optometrist about any concerns they have around their contraceptive pill and vision, as there are a number of ways in which dry eyes can be managed including:
- Artificial tears and other over-the-counter lubricating eye drops are available to alleviate the symptoms of dry eyes. Have some lubricating eye drops ready at your work desk.
- Massaging your eye lids with a warm compress daily. The combination of heat and massage stimulates the tear glands within your lids. This can be very effective if done daily and may reduce the need for lubricating eye drops long term.
- IF your dry eyes are due to lid disease (your optometrist will be able to determine this by examining you under their microscope) , daily lid cleaning or over-the-counter lid wipes might be beneficial.
- Be aware of your environment and avoid elements of irritants. Wind and smoke are common causes of dry eyes so best to avoid if you’re able too by wearing protective eyewear such as sunglasses. Avoid sitting under or near air-conditioning vents when using a computer screen.
- If you are a contact lens wearer, try to give your eyes a break from your contacts by wearing your glasses instead. Especially upon waking, at night and when sitting in front of the computer. Talk to your optometrist to see if you are currently wearing a brand of contact lenses that is best for dry eyes or consider changing to daily disposables.
- Keep hydrated and upkeep a balanced diet rich in Omega 3 such as oily fish.
If you have experienced prolonged periods of dry eyes or you're concerned that the contraceptive pill or other medication is causing you dry eyes, visit your local optometrist for expert advice.