What You Need To Know About Dry Eyes
Dry eye is a condition in which there is lack of sufficient lubrication and moisture on the surface of the eye. The severity can range from no symptoms at all to a constant state of debilitating symptoms. Based on data from the National Health and Wellness survey, 6.8% of the U.S. adult population (approximately 16.4 million people) has been diagnosed with dry eye. This number is most likely an underestimation of how many people suffer from dry eye symptoms.
6.8% of the U.S. adult population (approximately 16.4 million people) has been diagnosed with dry eye
What are the most common signs and symptoms of dry eye?
Excessive watering/tearing – yes, really!
Intermittent blurry vision
Foreign body sensation (the feeling of something in the eye)
Fatigued eyes/heavy eyelids
Irritation in windy environments
One of the most common questions I hear is – how can I have dry eye if they are constantly wet and watering?
When your eyes are dry, there is a signal sent to your lacrimal gland to produce more tears. It’s a reflex made in attempt to keep your eyes moisturized. However, the quality of these reflex tears are poor and can evaporate quickly, which leads to an endless cycle of dryness and tearing.
What increases your likelihood of getting dry eye?
Dry, dusty, or smoky environments
History of refractive surgery (i.e. LASIK, PRK)
Contact lens wear
Certain medications (i.e. antihistamines, antidepressants, birth control)
Autoimmune diseases (i.e. Sjögren’s Syndrome, Lupus)
Are there different types of dry eye?
There is a layer that coats the front of the eye called the tear film. The tear film itself comprises several layers, all which are crucial to contributing a stable tear film.
There are two subcategories of dry eye:
Poor quality of tears: You produce enough tears, but these tears aren’t stable on the front surface of the eye and evaporate quickly. Most of the time, this is caused by an insufficient oil layer, which is meant to protect and prevent the water layer from evaporating.
Inadequate amount of tears: You just aren’t producing enough tears for a sufficient tear layer. Tear production can diminish with age, certain medical conditions, or as a side effect of certain medications. These categories are not mutually exclusive, so some people may have these two concurrently. What are the treatment options?
Dry eye is a chronic condition may not be able to be completely cured. However, the symptoms can be successfully managed with the right treatment.
Treatment options include, but not limited to:
Artificial tears (including gel, ointment, and preservative-free options)
Punctal plugs (procedure done in-office to block tear drainage)
Prescription eye drops (i.e. Restasis, Xiidra)
You probably see a plethora of eye drop options at your local drug store and may be overwhelmed and wonder, which drops should I buy? Are they all the same?
These drops are called artificial tears, and there are currently numerous formulations on the market that you can purchase over-the-counter. Artificial tears are typically buffered solutions that contain electrolytes, surfactants, preservatives (some come preservative-free), and a viscosity agent to increase the lasting duration of the drop. Although they contain similar ingredients, they differ in their chemical properties and can act differently on the surface of the eye. Therefore, the type and level of dry eye you have determines which eye drop will work best for you.
Are there any lifestyle changes that can be made to reduce symptoms?
Yes! Although these steps may not work for everyone, some of these changes can significantly improve symptoms depending on what is causing your dry eye.
Wear sunglasses outdoors to reduce exposure to dry, dusty environments.
Blink regularly when staring at a computer screen for long periods of time
Use a humidifier at home or at work
Stay hydrated by drinking 8 to 10 glasses of water each day
Dry eye is a chronic condition but the symptoms can be managed successfully – the type of treatment that will work is dependent on the cause and type of dry eye you have. If you have any symptoms or concerns about which is the best treatment for you, contact your eye doctor to schedule an appointment for a dry eye evaluation.