Everyone has experienced at some time the irritation of dry eyes. For some, this momentary annoyance becomes a constant, unrelenting barrier to doing their job or enjoying time with friends and family.
Just like diabetes or high blood pressure, chronic dry eyes disease requires a comprehensive evaluation and treatment plan with the goal of not just relieving symptoms but treating the root cause and getting individuals back to doing the things they enjoy most.
What is dry eye disease?
Simply put, dry eye disease is an imbalance of the eyes’ tear film. Decreased tear production, poor tear quality caused by poorly functioning oil glands in the eyelids, inflammation, and the environment all play roles in this process.
How do I know if I have dry eyes?
Dry eyes can manifest itself in a number of ways including irritation, redness, burning, and blurred vision. One of the most confusing things about dry eyes is that tearing and watery eyes are common symptoms as well.
Other symptoms include:
- Sandy or gritty feeling
- Scratchy or foreign-body sensation
- Frequent blinking
- Mattering or caking of the eyelashes (usually worse upon waking)
- Blurry or fluctuating vision (made worse when reading, computer, watching television, driving, or playing video games)
- Eye pain and/or headache
- Heavy eye lids
- Eye fatigue
What causes dry eyes?
- Decreased hormones associated with aging
- Thyroid eye conditions
- Eyelid inflammation (blepharitis)
- Medication/supplement use
- Sjogren's syndrome (dry mucus membranes throughout body)
- Autoimmune disorders including Lupus and/or Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Chemical splashes / injuries to the eyes
- Eye surgery
- Infrequent blinking, associated with staring at computer or video screens
- Environmental (dusty, windy, hot/dry)
- Contact lens use
- Neurologic conditions, including stroke, Bell's palsy, Parkinson's, trigeminal nerve problem
- Exposure keratitis, in which the eyelids do not close completely during sleep ie lagophthalmos
- Post refractive surgery (LASIK or PRK), it may generally last three to six months,or longer
- Inflammatory eye conditions, including Herpes virus infections and uveitis / iritis
- Vitamin A deficiency (rare in US)
What are treatment options?
The exciting news about treating dry eyes is that options for treatment continue to expand rapidly. Beyond artificial tears, there are a host of good options that can be explored under the supervision of an eye care professional.
- Take a break from screen time! Follow the 20/20/20 rule. Take a break every 20 minutes and look 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
- Limit exposure to wind, fans, and forced air heating and air conditioning. Wraparound sun glasses, a sleep mask, and humidifiers can be very helpful in these circumstances.
- Research indicates that Omega 3 supplements high in EPA and DHA may be beneficial in certain groups of dry eye sufferers.
- Drinking plenty of water is essential to good health and ocular hydration.
- Practice good contact lens hygiene with a proper disinfecting and replacement schedule.
- Prescription eye drops target steps in the eye’s inflammatory pathway. Interrupting this damaging cycle can lead to increased tear production and improvement of symptoms.
- Short courses of topical steroids and even oral antibiotics with anti-inflammatory properties can be helpful.
- Allergy eye drops are often required when an allergic component is contributing to the problem.
- The use of warm compresses can help melt plugged eyelid oil glands, improve tear film quality and decrease tear evaporation.
- Lid scrubs with tea tree oil or hypochlorous acid can also aid by decreasing debris and removing unwanted bacteria and microscopic mites.
- Autologous Serum tears are an advanced form of treatment for severe dry eyes. A patient’s blood is drawn and the red blood cells are removed. The remaining clear serum is specially formulated into eye drops that contain growth factors and other nutrients that help heal the eye and reduce symptoms.
It’s important to understand irritation and blurred vision are not normal at any age and solutions exist when artificial tears are not enough. If you or a loved one is struggling with dry eyes, please call and schedule an appointment today.