Dry Eyes Caused by Hormone Problems

Genes May Cause Early Menopause and Dry Eyes

Feb. 10, 2004 -- Women whose ovaries prematurely quit functioning may be at a greater risk for dry eyes, a new study shows.

Premature ovarian failure happens in 1% of women under age 40, writes researcher Janine A. Smith, MD, with the National Eye Institute.

While the disorder has various causes -- including chemotherapy, radiation therapy, an immune dysfunction, and heredity -- the results are the same, writes Smith.

Women get all the hormone-related changes that postmenopausal women get -- hot flashes, night sweats, fatigue, and mood swings, risk of heart disease, and osteoporosis.

They also have more serious dry eye problems than other women their age, writes Smith. However, researchers don't fully understand what hormones are involved in dry eye problems -- whether it's female sex hormones or one of the other hormones that were produced by the ovaries.

Various disorders of sex hormone deficiency have been associated with dry eyes.

Her study involved 65 women -- all under age 40 and all with ovarian failure -- who were tested for symptoms of dry eyes. Indeed, these women had worse dry eye symptoms than a comparison group of similar-aged women:

  • Women with premature ovarian failure more often reported general vision problems, eye pain, and difficulty driving.
  • Women with premature ovarian failure had more burning, stinging, and grittiness in their eyes.
  • The study group used more lubricating eye drops.

Researchers found more severe surface damage to the eye in these women, reports Smith. However, the women's tear ducts seemed to be working fine.

It likely is a hormonal problem -- one that involves estrogen, which stimulates the immune system, and androgen -- male sex hormones, which suppresses the immune system, including production of the tear film over the eye, she explains.

A common genetic factor could be responsible for both ovarian dysfunction and dry eyes, she says.

SOURCE: Smith, J. Archives of Ophthalmology, February 2004; vol 122: pp 151-156.