Menopause, Aging Can Cause Issues for Vision

Patient Expert

Every now and then, I meet with my friends and notice that they suddenly are wearing glasses. Oh, the joys of changing eyesight as we reach middle age. And while some of my friends are opting for progressive lenses, I actually decided to get two pairs of glasses so that I can have one devoted to distance and one to close-up work.

But besides the challenges of vision, our eyes do go through some changes as we age.

Dry Eye

Hormone changes in women as they go through menopause can result in dry eye. The University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-M) School of Medicine and Public Health website stated that postmenopausal women may find that their eyes have become watery and irritated. This irritation is caused by one or more of the three layers of tear film that usually provide protection to the cornea have decreased. The loss of these layers - the outer lipid layer, the aqueous layer and the inner mucin layer - make it easier for the eye to become irritated.

"Because the cornea is dry and irritated, this triggers tearing," said Dr. Jane Cushing, a UW-M optometrist. "It sounds illogical, but it's the same thing that happens when cold, dry wind triggers teary eyes." Other symptoms of dry eye are blurry vision that comes and goes, stringy mucus, burning and redness.
Dry eye also can be caused by low humidity, dry winter air, air conditioning, a thyroid condition, inflammatory diseases (such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis), allergy medications, blood pressure medications, chronic inflammation and overuse (prolonged reading or computer work).

If you start experiencing symptoms of dry-eye, visit with an eye-care health professional to get a diagnosis. If you do have dry eye, there are several options, including artificial tear drops, gels and ointments. In addition, warm compresses using a clean, warm, wet washcloth over closed eyes has been found by many to help.   Other remedies, according to UW-M, include using a humidifier, staying hydrated, avoiding heat vents that blow directly on the eye, and taking fish-oil supplements. Prescriptions also are available that relieve chronic inflammation of the ocular surface. Health care professionals also can perform a punctal occlusion, a procedure in which the duct that carries to the nose is plugged so as to keep the tears from draining away from the eyes.

Age-related Macular Degeneration

Another eye issue that some older women face is macular degeneration, which is one of the most common sources of blindness in older Americans. While this condition is not tied to menopause, it is tied to the aging process. In fact, it's estimated that 2 million Americans have this condition.

This condition damages the macula, which is a region of the retina that is responsible for central, high-resolution vision. There are two types of age-related macular degeneration. The dry version causes vision loss due to the gradual loss of photoreceptors in the macula. A wet version called neovascular age-related macular degeneration is caused by abnormal blood vessels growing under the macula that leak blood and cause rapid damage to the photoreceptors.

Research has identified a number of treatments that can slow vision loss in people with intermediate age-related macular degeneration, as well as several treatments for the neovascular version. However, a cure has not been identified.
Researchers are continuing to seek to ways to treat age-related macular degeneration. For instance, the National Institutes of Health reports that new research suggests that targeting cholesterol metabolism in the eye may help prevent neovascular.   Researchers have found that cholesterol accumulates in the eye, much like it builds up in arteries and veins, as we age. When we're younger, the cholesterol is swept from the eye through a process that involves large cells called marcophages. As we age, these cells become less efficient. In order to help restore this process, researchers used a specific drug called liver X recptor (LXR) agonist to restore the function of macrophages in mice.

Interestingly, the NIH reports that having high blood cholesterol isn't strongly related to the neovascular age-related macular degeneration. Researchers are looking at whether statins and cholesterol-modifying drugs could reduce the risk of the condition.

So the nexus of this sharepost is that you need to keep regular appointments with your eyecare health professional to make sure that your eyes remain healthy_Primary Resources for This Sharepost:_

National Institutes of Health. (2013). Targeting cholesterol buildup in eye may slow age-related vision loss.

University of Wisconsin-Madison Health. (2010). Dry eye and post-menopausal women. University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health.