Dry eye or “dry eye syndrome” or “dry eye disease” is a condition where there is a lack of lubrication/moisture on the eyes. People all over the world and of all age groups are prone to experiencing dry eye, and it is one of the most common reasons for visiting an optometrist. This blog will help to answer what causes dry eye, what are the symptoms of dry eye, and some common dry eye treatments and preventative measures.
While it can be uncomfortable and irritating, it is not life threatening. However, that’s not to say that it won’t cause any damage at all. Untreated dry eye is prone to bacterial infections and can eventually lead to inflammation or corneal scarring and vision loss.
Symptoms can range from mild to severe, and it can affect people in different ways. These symptoms can include:
If you are experiencing—for a prolonged period of time—one or more of these you could be affected by dry eye syndrome and should see an optometrist.
Dry eye syndrome can be caused by many different factors, but it all revolves around your tears. While it is easily pushed to the wayside, tears are vital to your overall eye health.
Tears are composed of three layers—a lipid oily layer, an aqueous watery layer and a mucin mucus like layer. An imbalance in tear composition leads to inflammation, which can damage the tear producing glands worsening the condition over time.
Additionally, there should always be a tear layer around your eye to keep it moist, and to act as a protective layer against dust and microorganisms. Dry eye symptoms will set in when your eye stops producing quality tears or production of the components in the correct ratios. This can be caused from aging, hormone changes like menopause, thyroid disorders, vitamin A deficiency, lasik eye surgery and certain medications.
Dry eye syndrome can also be caused from tear evaporation from wind, smoke, dry air, or blinking less often while reading, driving, or working on a computer.
Recent studies have indicated that there is a link between dry eyes and screen time. According to a Nielsen Company audience report the average American spends close to 11 hours a day in front of a screen. With the world going digital and more people working from home now than ever, this is one of the leading causes of dry eyes.
Prolonged sittings in front of a screen can dry out your eyes, and throw off the water, oil and mucus composition as well.
When you blink your eyes release a tear film that coats your eyes and keeps them moist. While working on a computer, scrolling social media on your phone or just watching TV you don’t blink as much causing your eyes to dry out quicker.
Similarly, a Japanese study from 2014 indicated that working long hours in front of a computer screen can throw off your tear balance causing a decreased amount of mucus that is necessary for a healthy eye.
Children are also susceptible to dry eyes from screen time. With a global pandemic, increased time inside and increased implementation of numerous screens, parents should be carefully monitoring their children’s screen use and the health implications.
One of the most important things to prevent dry eyes is to be aware of what you’re doing and your surroundings.
Avoid direct airflow:
If you experience dry eyes in the morning it could be from your fan if it is blowing directly at you overnight. If it is an overhead fan try decreasing the speed, or if it is another type of fan try to not point it directly at your bed. Also, pay attention to air conditioning, heaters and hair dryers.
Humidify the air:
If you live in a dry environment an indoor humidifier can greatly increase the moisture in your home.
If you work outside sunglasses will not only protect you from dryness from the sun, but also from wind, dry air and any dust or microscopic particles.
Take a break from the screen:
While working from a computer screen be sure to take breaks. Close your eyes for a few minutes, blink repeatedly to help spread your tears back out, or for every 20 minutes behind the screen take 20 seconds to look away at something in the distance. You can also try to lower your screen to below eye level so you aren’t forced to open your eyes as much.
Smoking poses numerous health risks throughout your body that contribute to dry eyes, and the smoke can worsen your dry eye symptoms. Consult with your doctor for a strategy to quit smoking.
These are one of the most common treatments for dry eyes. They are eye drops that increase eye moisture, supplementing inadequate production of tear components. Artificial tears range widely in their components and are much more than just rewetting drops today.
Thankfully, if you suffer from chronic dry eye syndrome there are a multitude of different medications. An anti-inflammatory called cyclosporine (Restasis, Cequa and Klarity-C) is commonly used to increase your amount of tears and protect your cornea from further damage. Lifitegrast (Xiidra) is another drug that is widely prescribed early in the dry eye treatment process. Commonly doctors prescribe corticosteroid eye drops for rapid improvement in symptoms and use the prior medications for long term treatment. Consult with your doctor before taking any medication.
Lacrimal or Punctal Plugs:
This is a simple procedure that blocks the drainage holes in the corners of your eyes. It is a reversible and non-permanent solution that can help slow tear loss.
In office procedures:
The bacteria that live along the eyelids can produce toxins that cause inflammation and damage to the lid and tear glands. Your optometrist can exfoliate the lids in the office and express stagnant tear components, opening up tear flow and reducing the bacterial buildup along the lids. This is similar to how your dentist cleans your teeth to reduce cavities.
As a last resort some doctors may suggest surgery if the other treatments are ineffective. The tear drainage ducts can be cauterized to slow tear drainage similar to lacrimal plugs where it is aimed to stop the drainage of your tears. This surgery is permanent and only used in the most severe cases. Your surgeon may also recommend sewing the eyelids together to partially close the eyes. A third option would be tighten up the conjunctiva so tears can spread more evenly over the eye.
Our Reno family eye care center offers exceptional personalized visual solutions. We have been proudly serving the Northern Nevada area since 2004, and we are continuously improving our practice, service, and knowledge. We offer customized dry eye solutions featuring the Crystal Tear Report from our Oculus Keratograph 5M. Contact us today to get started on your path to healthy eyes!