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According to the Federal Health Department, in 2019 more than 1.2 million women were given scripts for the contraceptive pill. And while we know what’s it’s useful for, there have been quite a few side effects that have popped up over its lifespan.

One of the most interesting relates to claims that that innocuous-looking little tablet can change how we think: ‘The pill uses the hormones you naturally release when you’re pregnant to fool your body into thinking a new roomie has moved into your uterus. Progesterones block ovulation while oestrogen, when used, alters the uterine lining so any rogue eggs don’t implant in the womb. Here’s the thing, though: while normally your hormones cycle throughout the month, on the pill they stay fairly stable and flat. And it’s this different profile that’s believed to drive the pill’s mind-blowing impact and a whole new area of intrigue for scientists.’

“For example, oestrogen has a direct impact on serotonin, abilify voice over dopamine and noradrenaline, which are the key hormones involved in regulating mood, behaviour and other emotional aspects of life. Hormones also have an impact on the building and destruction of brain circuits, which affects the structure of the brain,” she Jayashri Kulkarni, Professor of Psychiatry at the Monash Alfred Psychiatry Research Centre at Monash University.

But that’s not even the weirdest side effect. Turns out, your contraceptive pill could also be making your eyes dry.

A number of women experience changes to their vision as a result of the estrogen in the pill causing eye inflammation. This in turn, interferes with the eye’s oil-producing glands, resulting in dryness and blurred vision.

To find out more we spoke to Optometry Australia’s Sophie Koh.

How can your contraceptive pill affect your 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. 
Dry eye syndrome is a common symptom that occurs when tears are not able to adequately lubricate the eyes, resulting in sore, scratchy, irritated, burning, tired and red eyes. And sometimes dry eyes might even give ‘watery eye’ symptoms.”

“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 hormonal changes through life, including the menstrual cycle.


“The mix of hormones that are in the contraceptive pill include oestrogen and progesterone, which alters your regular cycle and hormone levels, and is why some women experience dry eyes after they start taking the contraceptive pill.”

What are the other causes of dry eyes?

Other hormonal factors that can trigger dry eyes:


Menopause – “After menopause, your body makes less reproductive hormones, like oestrogen and progesterone, increasing your risk of dry eye syndrome significantly. Hormonal changes later in life may also contribute to an increased risk of particular eye diseases like 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 mild 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.”

Ageing – “While dry eyes can occur at any age, it becomes more common later in life, especially after age 50
. This can be due to certain health conditions, including diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, thyroid disorders, Sjogren’s syndrome and sleep apnea.”

Mask-associated dry eye ‘MADE’ – “Some people experience dry eye symptoms as a result of wearing face masks due to the exhaled air from the poorly-fitted mask causing accelerated evaporation of the tears. However, it is often due to pre-existing dry eye issues, made more pronounced by the use of masks.”

What should you do if your eyes are feeling dry?

“A very common underlying cause of dry eye is due to gland dysfunction in your upper and lower lids. Massaging your eyelids with a warm compress daily eg. warm flannel – 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.


Artificial tears and other over-the-counter lubricating eye drops are available to alleviate the symptoms of dry eyes. For those experiencing dry eyes, it’s worth keeping lubricant drops on hand at all times.


If your dry eyes are due to lid disease causing crusty deposits on your lashes (your optometrist will be able to determine this by examining you under their microscope), daily lid cleaning with foam products or lid wipes suggested by your optometrist 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 to, 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 keep a balanced diet rich in Omega 3 such as oily fish.


Women should speak to their optometrist about any concerns they have around their contraceptive pill and their eye comfort. You can find your nearest optometrist by visiting goodvisionforlife.com.au.”

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