Chronic dry eye (keratoconjunctivitis sicca) is a medical condition that affects millions of Americans. Caused by lack of tear production, the symptoms of dry eyes include:
- A burning, scratching or stinging sensation
- Redness in the eye
- Blurred vision that improves with blinking
- Frequent strained or tired eyes
- Excessive tearing
There are different causes of dry eye. For some people, it is an imbalance in the composition of their tears. Other sufferers do not produce enough tears to keep their eyes lubricated properly. Certain medications, eyelid problems, and environmental factors can also cause dry eyes. Age is another factor in dry eyes. The problem is more common in those over the age of 40. Many women are affected by dry eyes after menopause, which is thought to be caused by hormonal changes. Dry eyes can also be caused by diseases such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren’s syndrome and other problems. People who live in dry, windy environments are also more likely to have problems with this condition, as are people who wear contact lenses.
The tears of the eye are made up of three separate components: oil, from the Meibomian glands in the eyelids; mucous, from cells deep inside the eyelids; and aqueous tears, from the lachrymal glands located in several places around the eye. All three components of your tears must work together properly to keep your eyes lubricated and comfortable.
Chronic dry eye is a serious condition that can damage the surface of the cornea and may increase your risk of eye infections. Although over-the-counter drops may alleviate some symptoms, it’s important to have this condition treated by your optometrist or ophthalmologist. Fortunately, effective treatments are available. Your eye doctor can diagnose whether you have dry eyes by giving you a simple test to assess your body’s ability to produce tears. This is the best way to accurately gauge the severity of your problem.
Treating dry eyes
After diagnosis, your eye doctor will advise you on the most effective way to deal with your dry eyes. Often, a series of measures are needed to properly relieve this condition. The most popular therapies include:
Artificial tears – These are a popular option for keeping the eye lubricated and can be purchased without a prescription. However, your eye doctor may recommend a specific brand for you.
Punctal plugs – These are used to plug some of the exit routes of your tears. This helps your tears remain in your eye longer. Most punctal plugs are removable, so they can be tried for a time to see how well they work.
Restasis® (Cyclosporine A) – This anti-inflammatory eye drop helps increase tear production in patients who suffer from chronic dry eye. Restasis is available by prescription only.
Diet – Many eye care professionals believe that staying hydrated by drinking enough water and limiting sodas, caffeine and alcohol can help patients with dry eyes. Foods that contain Omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish oil and flaxseed oil, can also help fortify the tear film in your eyes.
Environment – Dry and windy environments can aggravate dry eye. Using a humidifier can help alleviate dry eye symptoms as can wearing wraparound sunglasses and other protective eyewear while outside.
Treating related eye conditions is also important if you suffer from dry eye. Blepharitis, an inflammation of the eyelashes and eyelid margins, can worsen dry eye symptoms. Blepharitis can be treated by your optometrist. Some dry eye patients suffer from ocular rosacea, an inflammatory eye condition that is often associated with rosacea of the skin. Symptoms of ocular rosacea include red, irritated eyes, blepharitis; frequent styes; foreign body sensation; and sensitivity to light. Ocular rosacea is a serious eye condition that can affect the cornea, and needs to be treated by an eye doctor.
Whether you have mild or severe dry eyes, your optometrist can help you treat it properly. So be sure to get professional help if you think you are suffering from dry eyes, or any other eye problem.