An example of a dry, irritated eye.
Dry eye symptoms
If your eyes constantly feel dry, gritty or sandy, you may suffer from dry eye syndrome. Other symptoms include red, tired, irritated or sore eyes, and difficulty wearing contact lenses. Sometimes even watery eyes can actually be a symptom of dry eyes, as the body produces excessive tears in response to the dryness and irritation. Some may notice an increase in the amount of sleep in eyes upon waking in the morning.
Causes of dry eyes
Dry eyes are caused when the eyes cannot produce enough ‘normal’ tears, or when tears evaporate quickly because of a problem with the ‘tear film’. There are a number of reasons why this might occur.
Using a computer: People who use a computer tend to blink less frequently than normal – about 7 times per minute, rather than the normal rate of around 22 times per minute. This can cause increased evaporation of tears, and hence dry eyes. Positioning your monitor below eye level can help, as it allows the upper eyelid to cover more of the eye’s surface. Being aware of blink rate, air circulation and glare can also help.
Excessive computer use is a common cause of dry eye
Wearing contact lenses: Dry eye is the leading cause of contact lens irritation. It is most common among soft contact lens wearers, and can cause irritation, protein deposits and red eyes.
Use of some medications: There are some medications that can lead to dry eye symptoms. If you use decongestants, antihistamines, blood pressure medications, antidepressants or eye drops for ‘red eyes’, these may contribute to your dry eye symptoms.
Environment: Environmental conditions (both indoor and outdoor) can result in dry eye symptoms. Air conditioning, ceiling fans and forced air heating systems all can decrease indoor humidity and/or hasten tear evaporation, causing dry eye symptoms. Arid climates and dry or windy conditions also increase dry eye risks.
Diseases: Some diseases are commonly associated with dry eyes, including arthritis, diabetes, asthma, thyroid disease and lupus. Autoimmune diseases such as Sjögren’s Syndrome are also a possible cause for symptoms that includes dry eyes, dry mouth and arthritis.
Inflammation of eyelid glands and eyelash follicles (Blepharitis): Inflammation of the eyelid glands (called meibomian glands) and eyelash follicles can compromise the quality of the tear film, which causes tears to evaporate more quickly. This is sometimes caused by over-growth of bacteria normally found on the eyelids.
If this is the case, it can often be treated with a rigorous regime of eyelid hygiene and in more stubborn cases special antibiotics.
Because there are so many different causes of dry eyes, your treatment will depend on your individual symptoms, and the cause of your condition. Most treatments for dry eyes involve either replacing tears, or reducing tear drainage.
Drops: Eye drops treat and relieve the inflammation that causes many types of dry eye and help to increase tear production.
Hot compress: Usually recommended if drops aren’t alleviating symptoms – a hot/warm cloth is applied to the eyelids for approximately ten minutes on a daily basis. Tears are made up of water and an oily substance produced by glands along the eyelids. If cells in the glands harden and plug the opening, it can keep the oil from getting into the tear film. Without that oil, the water in tears evaporates too quickly, leaving eyes feeling dry. A warm compress helps liquefy plugs so the oil can flow into tears.
Hot compresses are a popular and non- invasive form of treatment for dry eye
Diet: Dry eye syndrome is often improved by simply drinking more water but can also be improved by increasing the amount of essential fatty acid nutrients, such as Omega 3, in your diet. These are responsible for producing both the watery and the oily aqueous layers of the tear film. The best food sources of essential fatty acids are fish oil and cold-water fish, such as salmon, sardines and tuna.
Other good sources include flax seed oil and flax seed. If you can’t increase your intake of these in your everyday diet – alternative supplements are available. These supplements are specifically designed to combat and prevent dry eye symptoms.
Oftentimes home treatment alone may be insufficient, and in-office treatments to promote the function of the oil glands may be required. Our optometrists will be able to advise on what is required following an examination of your eyes.
It is not uncommon for treatment to be a staged process in order to properly address the various causes of Dry Eye Syndrome. In order to provide relief, tears must be replaced or conserved. If you suffer from dry eyes, the best thing to do is make an appointment with one of our Optometrists, who will thoroughly assess your condition, and discuss treatment options with you.
All of us have probably suffered the sensation of dry eyes at some point. The dry, gritty feeling can be brought on temporarily by lack of sleep, a dry climate, and many other environmental factors. But in some people, dry eyes can be a constant problem, and one that requires treatment to bring relief.