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July 24, 2019 Eye Associates

Dry Eye Syndrome: Common and Treatable

What is dry eye?

Dry eye syndrome is one of the most common reasons for visits to an eye doctor.
 

It is an extremely common condition that occurs when the quantity and/or quality of tears fails to keep the surface of the eye adequately moistened. Tears provide lubrication to reduce the risk of eye infection, wash away foreign matter in the eye, and keep the surface of the eyes smooth and clear.
 

Dry eye affects millions of adults in the United States, with the risk of developing it increasing with age and by gender (women have a higher rate of dry eye than men).
 

The results of dry eye can range from constant eye irritation to significant inflammation and even scarring. Advanced dry eyes may permanently damage the front surface of the eye and impair vision, and can affect the outcomes of LASIK and cataract surgery.
 

Dry eye symptoms

Symptoms of dry eye often include:
 

  • Burning or itching
  • Grittiness
  • Heavy, fatigued eyes
  • Dryness
  • Redness
  • Blurred vision
 

Common Risk Factors

Dry eyes can develop for many reasons, including:
 

  • Aging – Dry eye is increasingly common after age 50.
  • Menopause – Post-menopausal women are at greater risk for dry eye than men of the same age.
  • Health Conditions – Certain systemic diseases – such as lupus, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and others – can contribute to dry eye problems.
  • Medications – Many prescription and nonprescription medicines – including antihistamines, antidepressants, certain blood pressure medications, and others – can increase the risk of dry eye.
  • Computer Use – When working at a computer or using digital devices, we tend to blink less frequently, which leads to greater tear evaporation and increased risk of dry eye symptoms.
  • Contact Lenses – Long-term use of contact lenses can contribute to dry eye symptoms.
  • Indoor Environment – Air conditioning, forced air heating systems, and even ceiling fans can decrease indoor humidity and cause tear evaporation, leading to dry eye symptoms.
  • Outdoor Environment – Arid climates and dry or windy conditions can increase dry eye risks.
  • Flying – The air in airplane cabins is extremely dry and can lead to dry eye problems, especially for frequent flyers.
  • Smoking – Frequent exposure to cigarette smoke can lead to dry eyes.
 

How is dry eye diagnosed?

There are two basic types of dry eye:
 

  • When someone doesn’t produce enough tears. Sometimes associated with a systemic condition, such as diabetes, this type is more uncommon.
  • When someone produces enough tears, but their tear quality isn’t as good as it should be. This is the most common type of dry eye.
 

Healthy eyes need both watery tears, which keep eyes or contact lenses moist, and an oil component, which provides a barrier between the watery tears and the air of the environment. If there’s not enough oil in the tear mix, the tear quality is diminished and the watery tears evaporate.
 

In this more common type of dry eye, the oil glands along both the upper and lower eyelids aren’t providing enough oil in the tear mix. Under magnification during the clinical examination, your eye doctor will see plugs in the gland openings.
 

Dry eye can be effectively diagnosed through a comprehensive eye exam, which may include:
 

  • Patient history to note any general health problems, medications or environmental factors that may be contributing to dry eye symptoms. Make sure to tell your eye doctor about all the prescription and over-the-counter medications you take.
  • External examination of the eye.
  • Examination of the eyelids and cornea using bright light and magnification.
 

With the information obtained from testing, your eye doctor can determine if you have dry eyes and advise you on treatment options. Dry eyes can be a chronic condition, but your optometrist can prescribe treatment to keep your eyes healthy and comfortable and to prevent your vision from being affected.
 

Treatment

Treatment for dry eyes aims to restore or maintain the normal amount of tears in the eye to minimize discomfort and maintain eye health.
 

Primary approaches used to manage and treat dry eyes might include prescription eye drops or ointments, warm compresses and lid massage, or eyelid cleaners to help decrease inflammation around the surface of the eyes.
 

While many people think they need eye drops to keep their eyes moist, drops only provide temporary relief. Drops don’t solve the most common problem – which involves getting the oil glands opened up and functioning properly.
 

At Eye Associates, we find that effective treatment involves putting moist heat onto the eye. One component of our treatment plan involves using an eye mask that contains beads that pull moisture from the air and hold that moisture until you heat the mask in a microwave – heating it for 20 seconds and then wearing it for 5 minutes. That moist heat the mask exudes melts the plugs, opens the glands, and gets the oil flowing again.
 

This oil gland deficiency is a chronic issue, so using the mask is a long-term solution. It’s a simple, inexpensive and effective part of a therapeutic treatment plan.
 

Self-care

You can also take the following simple steps at home to help reduce symptoms of dry eyes:

 
  • Remember to blink regularly or close your eyes for a few minutes when reading or staring at a computer screen for extended periods of time.
  • When possible, increase the humidity in the air at work and at home.
  • Wear sunglasses outdoors, particularly those with wraparound frames, to reduce exposure to drying winds and sun.
  • Nutritional supplements containing essential fatty acids may help decrease dry eye symptoms in some people. Ask your eye doctor if taking dietary supplements could help your dry eye problems.
  • Avoiding becoming dehydrated by drinking plenty of water each day.
 

Contact us for more information

We value our long-term family relationships and are proud of our satisfied patient testimonials. Contact us to have an Eye Associates professional take care of your eye health!

NOTE: The information in this article should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your health care provider about your specific health needs.

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