Dealing with Dry Eye

Dry eye syndrome, also known as keratoconjunctivitis sicca, is a common condition that occurs when your eyes do not produce enough tears or when the tears evaporate too quickly. Tears are essential for maintaining the health of the front surface of the eye and for providing clear vision. When the tears are inadequate or of poor quality, it can lead to discomfort and potential damage to the ocular surface.

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Causes of Dry Eye

Environmental Factors

Environmental factors such as dry climates, wind, and smoke can contribute to the development of dry eye syndrome. Prolonged exposure to air conditioning or heating can also exacerbate symptoms by drying out the eyes.

Age and Hormonal Changes

As we age, our bodies produce fewer tears, which can make older adults more susceptible to dry eye syndrome. Hormonal changes, particularly in women due to pregnancy, oral contraceptives, or menopause, can also affect tear production.

Medical Conditions and Medications

Certain medical conditions such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and thyroid disorders can increase the risk of developing dry eye syndrome. Medications like antihistamines, decongestants, and antidepressants may also reduce tear production or affect tear quality.

Digital Screens

Extended use of computers, smartphones, and other digital devices can lead to decreased blinking and increased evaporation of tears, contributing to dry eye symptoms. This phenomenon is often referred to as digital eye strain.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

Symptoms of Dry Eye

  • Dryness: A gritty or sandy sensation in the eyes.
  • Redness: Eyes may appear red or bloodshot.
  • Watery Eyes: Paradoxically, dry eye can sometimes cause an overproduction of tears as a reflex response to discomfort.
  • Blurry Vision: Vision may become temporarily blurred, especially during prolonged visual tasks.

Impact on Daily Life

Dry eye syndrome can significantly impact daily activities such as reading, driving, and working on a computer. Severe cases may even lead to damage to the front surface of the eye and an increased risk of eye infections.

Managing and Treating Dry Eye

Lifestyle Modifications

  • Blinking Regularly: Taking breaks during prolonged visual tasks to blink more frequently.
  • Warm Compresses: Use a warm washcloth to apply heat to the eyelids, and gently massage to stimulate tear and oil production.
  • Humidifiers: Using humidifiers to add moisture to dry indoor air.
  • Protective Eyewear: Wearing sunglasses outdoors to protect the eyes from wind and dust.

Artificial Tears and Lubricating Eye Drops

Over-the-counter artificial tears can provide temporary relief by lubricating the eyes and maintaining moisture on the ocular surface. Lubricating eye drops are available in various formulations, so it’s essential to choose one that matches your specific symptoms.

Prescription Medications

In cases where over-the-counter treatments are not effective, your eye care professional may prescribe medications to reduce inflammation or to stimulate tear production.

Advanced Treatments

For more severe cases of dry eye syndrome, there are advanced treatments available, including:

  • Punctal Plugs: Tiny silicone or collagen plugs inserted into the tear ducts to block drainage and keep more tears on the surface of the eye.
  • LipiFlow: A procedure that applies gentle heat and pressure to the eyelids to unclog blocked meibomian glands, which are responsible for producing the oily part of tears.

Photo by Julia Avamotive

Dry eye syndrome is a common condition that can affect anyone, especially in today’s digital age. If you’re experiencing persistent dry eye symptoms, consult with an eye care professional for a comprehensive evaluation and personalized treatment plan.

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Ivan Yong

Dr. Ivan Yong is an optometrist with over 12 years of experience in the optical industry. He earned his doctorate from the Southern California College of Optometry and has practiced in multiple settings, including private practice, community health, and ophthalmology. Dr. Yong aims to expand access to affordable eyewear and improve eye health worldwide.