Causes and Cures for Dry Eye Syndrome
Most likely, you've experienced a feeling of dryness in your eyes at some point, either due to allergies or a windy day. But if the discomfort is ongoing, you may have a medical condition known as dry eye syndrome. Symptoms of dry eye can range from mild to severe and, if left untreated, can actually damage the front surface of the eye and impair your vision.
What Is Dry Eye?
Dry eye syndrome is a condition in which the eyes either don't produce enough tears or they produce tears that aren't adequate to keep the eyes moist and functioning properly. (Tears are made up of three layers: oil, water, and mucus. Each component serves a function in protecting and nourishing the front surface of the eye.)
People with dry eye syndrome can experience dryness or irritation of the eyes, burning, redness, itching, changes in vision, and "tired" eyes. Symptoms can worsen in the winter, when the humidity is low and the heat's on, or during allergy season.
Who Is at Risk for Dry Eye?
Dry eye becomes more common as people age. According to the American Optometric Association, most people over 65 experience the condition to some degree. Dry eye is more common in women than men, and at an earlier age. In women, the symptoms often manifest themselves during menopause, since hormonal shifts have a drying effect on the body's tissues in general.
People who have had eye surgery - especially cataract, glaucoma or LASIK surgery - are also more susceptible to dry eye, as are those who take antihistamines, decongestants, blood pressure medications, or antidepressants.
Understanding Dry Eye Treatment Options
Mild cases of dry eye may be treatable with an over-the-counter, preservative-free artificial tears solution. Your doctor may also prescribe drops.
Avoid redness-reducing drops, however, which can worsen the condition. "Many people just go to the drugstore and grab drops off the shelf without checking carefully," says John Sheppard, M.D., an ophthalmologist, corneal eye surgeon and president of Virginia Eye Consultants.
Home remedies for mild dry eye also include drinking more water, using a humidifier, wearing sunglasses with wraparound frames, and taking omega-3 fatty acid supplements. Surgery may be an option if you have an abnormality in the surface of your eye or tear ducts, or if your lid is deformed so it cannot cover the eye properly. Silicone or biodegradable protein plugs that promote natural tear retention are another option for people who produce insufficient tears.
For people with blocked oil glands in all four eyelids, an FDA-approved treatment called LipiFlow is available. This painless procedure is performed in a doctor’s office and applies controlled heat and pressure to the inner eyelid, allowing the natural oil to flow and protect the eyes from drying out.
Increasingly, says Dr. Sheppard, doctors are focusing on preventive measures rather than taking a watch-and-wait approach. "We're identifying dry eye earlier and intervening earlier so it doesn't progress to a severe situation."
From our sister publication REMEDY's Healthy Living Fall 2014