Dry eye (DE) is a multifactorial disorder of the ocular surface unit that results in eye discomfort, visual disturbance and ocular surface damage. It is one of the most common complaints in daily ophthalmic practice. The risk of DE increases with age in both sexes, while its incidence is higher among females. In addition, the condition of menopause in aging women may also contribute to DE onset or worsening as a consequence of an overall hormonal imbalance. Sex hormones play a key role in ocular surface physiology and they impact differently on ocular surface tissues. Reduced estrogen levels were historically thought to be responsible in age-related DE onset but more recent investigations have reconsidered the role of androgens that are present and exert a protective function on the ocular surface. Hormone levels themselves, withdrawal changes in hormone levels, and the changes in hormone-receptor responsiveness are all important factors but it remains to be fully elucidated how estrogen or androgen insufficiency act alone or together in a combined imbalance or interplay to raise the risk of disease. The purpose of this review is to briefly outline current scientific evidence on the influence of androgens and estrogens, on the Lachrymal and Meibomian glands and on ocular surface epithelia including conjunctival goblet cells during reproductive and menopausal periods. The role of sex steroids is also discussed in relation to the pathogenesis of different forms of DE and Sjogren's syndrome (SS). The impact of systemic hormone therapy (HT) in DE post-menopausal women still appears as a controversial issue, despite the many clinical studies. Finally, the outcomes of topical applications of steroid-based products are summarized, underlying the need for potential (tear) biomarker(s) in the rationale of DE-targeted therapy.
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