Got Dry Eyes? Hormone Therapy May Be to Blame

Nov. 6, 2001 -- It's not allergy season, but your eyes still feel itchy. Does this sound like you? Well, if you are taking hormone therapy, you may have identified the culprit behind those itchy, dry eyes.

The latest research on the much-talked-about hormone therapy shows that women using replacement hormones, like estrogen, are more likely to have dry eyes.

Hormone therapy is used by an estimated 38% of postmenopausal women in the U.S. to treat a variety of menopausal symptoms. Unfortunately, as more doctors are taking a closer look at hormone therapy, they are finding it may be linked to some unwanted side effects.

Several studies have found that hormone therapy may worsen heart disease and cause breast cancer after long-term use. Now scientists suspect that it may dry out your eyes as well.

Studying nearly 26,000 postmenopausal women, researchers from Harvard Medical School found that women who use hormone therapy, particularly estrogen alone, are at increased risk of getting dry eyes. The longer the women had been taking the hormone therapy, the higher the risk and the worse the symptoms.

Women who were taking a combination of estrogen plus progesterone/progestin had dry eyes, but not as badly as those women taking estrogen alone.

The researchers aren't sure why hormone therapy causes dry eyes, but they suspect that estrogen has a drying effect on the tear glands.

Women who are taking or considering hormone therapy should keep in mind the potential drying effects of the therapy, says researcher Debra A. Schaumberg, ScD, OD, MPH.

The study is published in this week's issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association.