What is Dry Eye?
Dry eye is a condition in which your eyes do not produce enough tears to properly lubricate the ocular surface. Dry eye affects millions of people worldwide and is one of the most common reasons patients visit an Optometrist. Without proper treatment, dry eye can lead to eye infections, scarring and vision loss.
Signs and Symptoms of Dry Eye
Dry symptoms vary with the severity of the condition and may include the following:
- chronic red eyes
- gritty feeling eyes
- sandy feeling eyes
- light sensitivity
- blurry vision
- itching eyes and allergies
- watering eyes
- foreign body sensation
What Causes Dry Eye?
- As we grow older our tear production decreases.
- Environmental factors. Living in a cold dry climate like Minnesota in the wintertime causes increased tear evaporation and dry eye symptoms.
- Vocational factors. Professions such as computer programming or other visually demanding professions cause an increase in staring and decrease in blink rate. This increases tear evaporation and causes poor tear circulation.
- Females are four times more likely to experience dry eyes than males.
- Contact lenses Improperly fit or poor quality contact lenses can increase dry eye symptoms.
- Lack of water intake decreases tear production.
- Chronic inflammation of the eyes. Studies have shown that chronically inflamed and irritated eyes cannot produce enough tears to lubricate the ocular surface.
- Sjogren’s syndrome. This is an inflammatory disease of the mucous membranes which can cause dry mouth and significantly dry eyes.
- Eye Allergies can also contribute to dry eyes.
How is Dry Eye Diagnosed?
Proper evaluation and diagnosis of dry eye must be made by an Optometrist who will examine the surface of the eye with a slit lamp (lighted microscope). Special drops will be instilled to “stain” dry and damaged tissue for easier visibility by your eye doctor. Also, a proper case history must be taken to determine the cause of the dry eye.
How is Dry Eye Treated?
There are a variety of dry eye treatments which can be used depending upon the level of symptoms. Some of the easiest treatments are to avoid environmental factors that cause dry eye. For example, take frequent breaks from the computer while blinking several times to increase tear circulation. Increase humidity in your home by installing a humidifier. Move to Florida!
Have your contact lenses reevaluated. Poor fitting contact lenses can irritate a dry ocular surface. Recent advancement in contact lens materials now allow much more comfortable contact lens wear.
There are many ocular lubrication drops available over-the-counter. The three most common types are a thin drop, a gel type drop, and a thick ointment. A mild dry eye will probably only require a thin drop or a gel drop whereas a severe dry eye may require an ointment. Preservative free lubrication drops (single use tubes) are an excellent choice for those patients allergic to preservatives in bottle drops. The key to using lubrication drops is to use the drops on a regular basis before the eyes become extremely dry. Visine is not effective for dry eyes. Visine may temporarily “take the red out” but the eye whitening ingredients actually make the eyes more dry long-term.
Punctal Plugging is a procedure performed by your optometrist that involves insertion of small plastic plugs into the puncta which drain the tears from the eyes. In theory, these plugs keep the tears from draining but has a limited success rate in reducing patient’s dry symptoms.
Controlling inflammation of the eyes tear secreting tissue is very important to quality tear production as inflamed tear glands cannot function properly. Two great ways to control inflammation are fish oil pills and Restasis. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil or flax seed oil have anti-inflammatory properties throughout the body. Restasis is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory eye drop which if used twice daily can increase tear production in most patients.
What Steps Should I Take if I Think I Have Dry Eye?
If you are experiencing dry symptoms, we recommend that you see Dr. Reinders for a Dry Eye Evaluation. He has 22 years of experience treating dry eyes and related problems. The sooner you get the dry under control, the easier it is to treat and the sooner you will feel better.