An estimated 12-20% of our population struggles with dry eye. Dry eye, also known as Keratoconjunctivitis sicca or Keratitis sicca, is a condition where our eyes don’t make enough moisture on their own. This can lead to uncomfortable or even painful dry eye symptoms that can disrupt our daily lives.
Just because it’s a common problem doesn’t mean dry eye patients have to struggle. Doctors offer many varying dry eye treatments designed to help make living with dry eye a more comfortable experience and to protect your eyes from long term damage caused by dryness.
Dry eye symptoms
Ironically, watery eyes are a common symptom of dry eye. Most of us think of crying when we talk about tears, but there is a big difference between healthy tears and crying tears. When healthy tears cover our eyes, we do not notice the moisture or feel any discomfort. If this moisture layer is disrupted, it can be very uncomfortable or lead to other noticeable changes, like watery eyes.
In addition to watery eyes, other dry eye symptoms include:
- Blurred vision
- Burning or itchy eyes
- Heavy or fatigued eyes
- Sore eyes
- Dry sensation
What causes dry eyes?
Dry eye is caused when we don’t have enough healthy tears. Healthy tears, not “crying” tears, keep the surface of our eyes clean from debris and microorganisms while also keeping it moist. They are essential to the well-being of our eyes.
Healthy tears are very complex and are made up of three layers: an outer layer of oil, a middle layer of watery tears, and an inner layer of sticky tears. We can experience dry eye when the outer oil layer isn’t working correctly, causing tears to evaporate too quickly. When this happens, our eyes’ surface becomes exposed, which often feels like a sharp pain or burning sensation.
To help combat this, our eyes may produce what eye doctors call “Reflex Tears.” Reflex tears are runny and watery like the tears we get when we cry (not the type of healthy tears we want). Because they lack the oil, reflex tears don’t help dry eye and can be very frustrating.
A few of the most common causes for dry eye include:
Dry eye is seen more frequently in older patients, especially those older than 50. In fact, studies have shown that dry eye increases in women and men every five years after the age of 50, with women experiencing it at a higher rate than men.
People who wear contacts may be aware of their eye dryness more. There are some incredible contact lenses these days that can help with this and combined with dry eye treatments, we find that our contact lens wearers are very comfortable and happy with their lenses.
Too much computer use
When we use a computer, our blink rate is reduced as we concentrate on the screen. This slower blink rate can allow our tears to evaporate and may lead to dryness and discomfort. The computer screen also emits light, and specifically some small amounts of blue light, that can contribute to eye fatigue.
Our indoor and outdoor environments can have an impact on our eye health. For example, windy and dry climates can lead to faster evaporation of tears. Less humidity in the home, too, usually caused by air conditioning systems, can also lead to dry eye symptoms. Protecting your eyes outside is an important part of keeping your eyes healthy and comfortable.
Medications & medical conditions
Certain types of medications increase our symptoms, including some antihistamines and antidepressants. People who experience diabetes, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and lupus are also more susceptible to dry eye. When our body has inflammation in other areas, this inflammation can also impact our eyes and cause dryness.
Allergy eye drops are another contributor to eye dryness. If our tears are working well, they will flush most allergens out of our eyes and keep our eyes comfortable. Using an antihistamine eye drop can reduce our tear volume and make it tougher for our eyes to fight off the allergens naturally. A good balance of dryness care and allergy care is very important.
LASIK eye surgery can damage our mucin-producing cells, which can lead to dry eye symptoms. Our tears’ inner layer has sticky cells, called Goblet cells, that help keep our tears from falling to our lower eyelid. LASIK can damage these sticky cells.
How do you permanently treat dry eyes?
Unfortunately, dry eye is a chronic condition that can be hard to treat permanently. But, many eye doctors offer treatments designed to help keep oil-producing glands working well.
Dry eye drops
Preservative-free eye drops can be a very effective way to treat dry eye. Many over-the-counter tear eye drops provide temporary relief from dryness but are often not preservative-free. A supplement eye drop that provides some anti-inflammatory relief can help long-term. Talk to your eye doctor about which level of preservative-free eye drop would be best for you.
Learning what triggers your dry eye, and then acting in a way that avoids those triggers, can be an excellent way to permanently treat dry eyes. For example, if you feel more symptoms after staring at a computer for an extended time, start working in small breaks throughout your day that allow you and your eyes to step away from the computer.
You also need to stay hydrated! We have many clients who ask us the question, “does drinking water help dry eyes?” and the answer is yes! If you’re dehydrated, your body is running low on essential fluids that keep everything functioning at its highest potential, including your eyes! This is also why using a humidifier can help as well. A couple other things to keep in mind are that caffeine can contribute to dryness. Antihistamine eye drops can cause dryness in our eyes and be mindful of having fans that blow directly on your eyes.
There are certain vitamins and minerals that can help treat the causes of dry eye, including omega fatty acids. Our HydroEye dry eye supplements are specifically designed to help support a healthy tear film and soothe the ocular surface. Our EZ Tears are also specifically designed to reduce inflammation and help your eyes make natural tears. These eye vitamins are an easy way to treat dry eye without having to change too many habits.
Reducing inflammation along your eyelid margins can really help the oil layer of your tears. Inflammation on the surface of your eyes can also reduce your natural tear production. Using products that reduce the eyelid inflammation or eye drops that reduce inflammation on the surface of your eyes can really improve your tear film.
Oil gland stimulation treatments
There are a number of treatments available today focused on keeping our oil producing glands in working condition. Intense Pulsed Light helps reduce inflammation in the oil glands. Heat and massage treatments are often performed in the eye doctors office to activate the oil glands and prevent them from wearing out. Applying heat at home can also help the oil glands to stay active.
Schedule a consultation
Dry eye impacts everyone differently. Our eye doctors are experts at helping you treat your dry eyes in a way that fits your needs and your lifestyle. Contact us today for a consultation!