If you think you have dry eyes, check out some of these common symptoms and possible causes.
Nearly ten million Americans suffer from dry eyes. Dry eyes are caused by tears providing insufficient moisture. There are 2 main reasons why tears do not lubricate eyes properly: the tear ducts do not generate enough tears to keep the eyes moisturized or the tears are poor quality. Poor-quality tears are caused by a compromise in the integrity of any one of the 3 basic layers of tear film: oil, water, and mucus. An overall lack of tear production can be a result of age, specific medical conditions such as diabetes, or tasks requiring concentration such as computer use, reading or driving (therefore you blink less). The severity of chronic dry eye can range from mild discomfort to impaired vision.
Dry eyes can manifest in many forms. Here is a list of the most common signs and symptoms of dry eye:
- A burning, stinging, or scratching feeling
- Sensitivity to light
- Feeling like there is sand or a gritty sensation in eyes
- Stringy mucus in or around one’s eyes
- Excessive tearing at times
- Eye fatigue
- Blurred vision which often gets worse at the end of the day
- Amplified eye irritation from elements such as wind or smoke
I am inspired to write about this topic because after 20 years of staring at a computer screen for work, my vision has deteriorated due to chronically dry eyes. Unfortunately, there isn’t a cure for dry eye, but there are ways to mitigate the symptoms.
Treatment Options For Dry Eyes:
- Punctal Plugs- These are silicone plugs placed in your tear ducts designed to keep your tears from leaving your eyes too quickly.
- Over-the-Counter Eyedrops- There are two types of artificial tears: preservative or non-preservative. Preservatives are added to eyedrops to extend their shelf-life. In contrast, non-preservative eyedrops are packaged in single-use vials and disposable. Non-preservative eyedrops tend to be more expensive since you only have a single use. If you have a limited budget and need eyedrops up to 4 times a day, eyedrops with preservatives could be a possible option. There is one potential downside to drops with preservatives, they can amplify eye irritation. Additionally, make sure you don’t use eyedrops formulated to eliminate redness for dry eye issues. They do not help dry eye and can create even more problems.
- Lubricating Eye Ointment- This is a thick ointment that coats your eyes which can provide longer relief. However, it must be applied only at bedtime since the heavy ointment clouds your vision.
- Mild Soap on the Eyelids- Washing your eyelids with warm water and a mild soap can be beneficial for dry eyes. This helps facilitate the flow of oil to the eye.
- Warm Compress- Placing a warm wet washcloth on your eyes for 5-10 minutes a day can help with dry eye unblocking the path of oil to the tear duct.
- Fatty Acids- Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids may be beneficial for dry eyes. Fatty acids are found in foods such as salmon, tuna, walnuts, flaxseed oil to name a few. They are also available as a supplement.
- Caffeine- A recent study found a correlation between caffeine consumption and an increase in tear production. There is not a lot of research on the connection, but it’s a good excuse to get a chocolate or coffee fix.
There are also preventative measures to protect your dry eyes. These are easy ways to help dry eye symptoms:
- Avoid Blowing Air- Air blowing directly in your face should be avoided if you have dry eyes. Don’t direct heaters, air conditioners, hair dryers or fans in your face. Additionally, when outdoors, try to wear glasses to help block the wind.
- Take Breaks- Tasks requiring concentration such as computer use, driving, or reading cause eyes to get dry because you blink less. Take eye breaks by looking away, closing your eyes, or blinking rapidly for several seconds to distribute the tears to provide moisture.
- Position Computer Screen Below Eye Level- By positioning the computer screen below eye level, your eyes won’t be open as wide to view the screen, thus slowing the evaporation of tears.
- Use a Humidifier- A humidifier adds moisture to the air which helps keep eyes moist longer.
- Take Note of Your Environment- Being in very dry atmospheres like an airplane, the mountains, or the desert will cause dry eye symptoms. Periodically close your eyes for several minutes to provide moisture.
- Avoid Smoke- Smoking is bad for many reasons and dry eye is one of them. Smoke increases dry eye symptoms.
Your eyes are an important part of your health. Although dry eye cannot be cured, the aforementioned treatments and preventative measures can alleviate the symptoms. Being aware and taking precautions can reduce your risk of having long-term vision impairment from dry eye.