Dry eyes are irritating and can be debilitating
Most people have generally experienced acute dryness of the eyes more than a time or two. The eyes are sensitive and perform loads of tasks for us on a second-by-second basis. Acute dryness of the eyes is totally normal, albeit uncomfortable. Allergies, sunshine, skin care products and the like may cause brief irritation, causing our eyes to dry out.
Causes of dry eyes can be numerous. However, some individuals experience chronic dryness of the eye on a routine basis. While this isn’t indicative of a life-threatening issue, it can inhibit daily life and an opthamologist should be consulted to discuss treatment options.
What are the symptoms of dry eyes?
Acute and chronic dryness of the eyes exhibit similar symptoms. If you are experiencing any of the following, you may have dry eyes.
- Frequent blinking
- Sensitivity to light
- Irritation from contact lenses
- Blurred vision
If any of these symptoms persist for longer than a day or two or don’t go away with simple OTC treatments, it may be time to consult your eye doctor to figure out if you’re experiencing chronic dry eyes.
Causes and risk factors of chronic dry eyes
Certain health issues may make one more susceptible to dry eyes. The following are some of the more common causes of chronic dry eyes:
- Environmental factors. Smoke, pollution, extremely dry air, wind and cold temperatures may exacerbate irritated eyes and cause chronic dryness. Those that live in polluted areas like large cities, in areas near wildfires or in dry climates may experience chronic dry eyes because of these conditions. Air conditioning may also exacerbate a dry eye issue.
- Eye surgery. After having LASIK or cataract surgery, your eyes can dry out and struggle to create additional lubrication.
- Allergies. Those with seasonal allergies may experience longer periods of dry eyes that can flare up as the weather changes. Even changing locations can introduce new allergies to one’s system, causing them to experience dryness possibly for the first time.
- Hormonal changes in women. As women go through menopause, they can experience a fluctuation in hormones that lead to dryness throughout the body. This dryness may even extend to the eyes.
- Autoimmune disorders. Many autoimmune disorders cause a host of symptoms, including dryness in the eyes and other areas of the body. Sjörgen’s syndrome, lupus, diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis may cause chronic dry eyes amongst other eye issues. Similarly, autoimmune disorders that affect the thyroid can cause dryness.
- Insufficient vitamin intake. The eyes rely on certain vitamins to function properly and remain hydrated. Vitamin A, C, E, riboflavin, niacin and others are found in many foods, however, a patient’s intake via diet may not be enough.
- Medicine. Those taking antihistamines, antidepressants, blood pressure medication and even birth control pills may experience dryness of the eyes.
- Meibomian Gland Dysfunction. This eye disorder can occur when the lipid producing glands on the lower eyelids become clogged.
If you suffer from any of the common health factors that may cause dry eyes, you can take steps to minimize other risk factors. These risk factors include:
- Frequent wearing of contact lenses. Make sure to remove your lenses at night to give your eyes a rest.
- Eye strain or having a job which causes eye strain. Tedious, data-entry jobs, tech-focused industries or even surgery can cause eye strain over time.
- Excessive blue light exposure and screen time. Spending too much time in front of a cell phone or computer screen can cause serious damage. Our eyes did not evolve to take in the amount of blue light we receive on a daily basis.
- Seasonal allergies. Over time, allergies can exacerbate minor eye conditions, creating more serious issues like chronic dry eyes.
- Topical products. If you use preservative and chemical-laden ointments frequently around the eyes, you may experience added irritation in the long run. These topical products can include eye creams, SPF or even make-up that work their way onto the surface of the eye.
How is dry eye syndrome diagnosed?
The first step in diagnosing dry eyes is to determine which type one is experiencing.
- Tear-deficient dry eye. This condition occurs when the lacrimal glands simply don’t produce enough natural tears. A general eye exam performed by your opthamologist may be able to accurately assess if your experience is a health condition or just acute dryness.
- Evaporative dry eye. The eyes don’t have a strong moisture layer to remain lubricated throughout the day. As the tear ducts create real tears, they evaporate too quickly, leaving the eyes dehydrated.
If symptoms persist or your dry eyes are causing pain and interfering with daily life, consult your eye doctor. He or she will perform a few simple, minimally-invasive tests to measure tear production and evaluate overall eye health.
How to treat dry eyes
There are numerous ways your eye doctor can help in treating a chronic dry eye condition. Most are minimally invasive and just require some maintenance.
- Artificial tears. Your opthamologist may prescribe strong artificial tear drops or recommend an over-the-counter option. Restasis (Allergan) and Xiidra are two of the more commonly prescribed eye drops for those with chronic dry eyes.
- Steroid eye drops. Inflammation is often linked to chronically dry eyes. Unfortunately, inflammation can be caused by a number of other underlying health issues. Treating this cause with steroid eye drops can help reduce swelling and allow the tear ducts to again begin producing.
- Lacrisert. Each day, you can place this slow-release lubricant in the eye where the eyelid meets the eyeball’s conjunctiva. Throughout the day, the device releases moisture and relieves dryness, itching and blurred vision.
- Gland expression. If the meibomian glands (oil glands) become plugged, your eyes will not be able to produce enough oil on the surface of the eye. So even if the eye produces enough tears, the lack of oil production in the eye prohibits the evaporative layer from holding onto those tears. Your opthamologist can perform a minor procedure to release the blockage from these glands.
- Punctal Plugs. Also known as lacrimal or tear duct plugs, these small devices are planted in the actual tear duct to prevent the release of liquid from the eye.
- IPL. Known as intense pulsed light, this treatment can alleviate dry eyes that are caused by ocular rosacea. Once irritated blood vessels are soothed with IPL, one can hope for increased tear production of their natural tears.
- Supplements. Taking an omega-3 fatty acid vitamin daily can help provide lubrication and facilitate overall eye-health.
- Use a humidifier. Simply adding moisture into your home or office atmosphere can alleviate some dry eye disease symptoms like itching, burning or redness.
- Warm compress. If your eyes are experiencing chronic dryness due to clogged glands or prolonged allergies, a warm compress can help alleviate inflammation and other allergy symptoms.
Dry eyes are treatable with the help of your ophthalmologist
Dry eyes aren’t life threatening but can be very impactful on one’s quality of life and enjoyment of certain activities. Acute eye dryness is often easily treatable with over-the-counter medication but chronic conditions may require help from an eye doctor.
Consult an opthamologist in Orlando to help with any eye conditions you are experiencing. UCF Health’s network of care professionals put their patients’ needs first and work to establish meaningful relationships with each patient. Visit our patient portal to use our convenient online scheduling tool or to receive COVID-19 updates for patients.