Dry eye is a common eye condition marked by a lack of tears to provide lubrication in the eyes. Tears play and essential role in maintaining eye health. In addition to providing lubrication, the “tear layer” of the eye helps to fight infections and wash away foreign objects from the eyes. Without an adequate tear film in the eyes, irritation can lead to discomfort and eye rubbing, which can exacerbate dry eye syndrome.
Although dry eye is caused as a result of a lack of lubrication, it doesn’t necessarily mean a lack of tear production. The eyes might be producing a normal amount of tears, but other issues is causing them to drain from the eyes before they can adequately protect.
The reality is there are many reasons why you might experience dry eye, including:
- Overexposure to sunlight
- LASIK (dry eye is a common side effect)
- Hormonal imbalance associated with pregnancy
- Inadequate blinking
- Environmental factors (weather, dust, etc.)
- Digital eye strain (overexposure to blue light)
- Contact lens discomfort
- General health issues (diabetes, arthritis and other conditions may cause dry eye)
It’s perfectly normal to experience dry eye every now and again as a result of any of the aforementioned factors. However, if you experience chronic dry eye, it could be a sign of dry eye syndrome and require the assistance of an eye doctor.
If you have dry eyes, you’re likely to experience an array of symptoms that can include:
- Red eyes
- Blurred vision
- Light sensitivity (photophobia)
- Burning, stinging or itching of the eyes
- Eye pain
- Eye fatigue
- Sensation of foreign object in the eye
Dry eye symptoms may appear more pronounced or significant under certain climate conditions such as dry and/or windy weather, and high temperatures and humidity.
Dry eye can be a nuisance that interferes with your everyday life. Fortunately there are a number of treatments available to help alleviate the issue.
Eye drops – One of the simplest methods for managing dry eye is through the use of over-the-counter eye drops or “artificial tears.” These types of drops are mild enough that they can be used as frequently as needed to offset the symptoms of dry eye.
If over-the-counter eye drops aren’t helping, your eye doctor may elect to prescribe you a stronger eye drop with corticosteroids. If you are prescribed eye drops they shouldn’t be used as liberally as over-the-counter drops. Use as directed.
Punctal plugs – If your dry eye is caused by the abnormally fast draining of tears, your eye doctor may elect to treat with punctal plugs, tiny biocompatible inserts that are placed in the tear ducts to prevent drainage. In certain situations, the tear ducts may even be closed surgically.
Alternative medication – If your dry eye is being caused as a result of a medication you’re taking, treatment might be as simple as finding an alternative medication. Antihistamines are known to cause dry eye as a side effect. Speak with your eye doctor and general practitioner about your dry eye to determine if medication use may be a factor.
Behavioral modifications – Digital eye strain can be caused by spending too much time working on computers, smart phones, tablets, etc. Try taking more breaks while you work (not spent on your phone) to rest your eyes. Follow the 20-20-20 rule (20 second break to view something 20 feet away every 20 minutes) to best protect your eyes while working.
Your eye doctor will work with you to determine the cause of your dry eye problems in order to determine how best to treat the condition.
Aside from formal treatment, there are steps that you can take to protect yourself against dry eye syndrome. Wear sunglasses as often as possible when outside in the sunlight; especially if you’re spending long periods of time outside. Follow the 20-20-20 rule at work as referenced above, and avoid spending too much time on your smartphone or watching TV at home without taking a break. You can also take nutritional supplements such as omega-3s and other eye-healthy vitamins to support eye health in general. As is the case with a great many things, the best form of treatment is prevention.