Are your eyes itchy, tired and watery on a frequent basis? If the answer is yes then you may suffer from a condition known as dry eye. It is one of the most common complaints that prompts people to visit their optometrist. If you believe that you suffer from dry eye then call Pat O ‘Donoghue Optometrist at Urban Optics to book an appointment and find a suitable course of treatment.
Dry eye is usually caused by problems with the tear film that lubricates the eye. In addition to this lubricating function, we produce tears in response to emotional or physical stimuli e.g. a piece of grit or an eyelash in the eye.
Where there is an underlying issue with the tear film quality, these reflex tears do little to alleviate the symptoms of dry eye. Sometimes a person will have excess tears running down their cheek and be quite confused to be diagnosed with dry eye – in this situation it is likely that eye isn’t getting enough lubrication and produces more tears in response to this. However, these tears are mostly water and do not have the lubricating qualities or the rich composition of normal tears. They will wash debris away, but they will not lubricate the eye surface effectively.
What causes Dry Eye? Dry eye syndrome has many causes
Ageing: One of the most common reasons for dryness is associated with the natural ageing process. As we get older our bodies produce less oils, including the oily outer layer of the tear film. This oily layer forms a protective coating over the tears and stops them from evaporating. A deficiency in this protective layer allows tears to evaporate and leaves areas of exposure on the surface of the eye.
Medications: Certain medications can influence the quantity / quality of tears produced. The medications below may have associated side effects of dry eye.
Oral Contraceptive Pill
Decongestants – used in hay fever and sinusitis control
Beta Blockers – used in control of blood pressure
Diuretics – used in fluid control
Medical conditions may also cause dry eye including:
Vitamin A deficiency,
Hormonal Changes: Women frequently experience problems with dry eyes as they enter menopause because of hormonal changes.
Contact lens wear can heighten dryness symptoms, as often water-based lenses will absorb moisture from the tear film, reducing the quantity of tears remaining
VDU Work: People working on VDUs may find they experience dryness symptoms specifically at work. It has been reported that people working on VDUs for long periods at a time tend to blink less often. This allows tears to evaporate more readily.
Eyelid abnormalities –
Blocked meibomian glands which produce the protective oily layer of the tear film.
Damage to the glands producing the tears may also affect the volume of tears produced.
Symptoms of Dry Eye
Blurred vision that improves with blinking
Symptoms can often be worse in an environment where there is a lot of air conditioning / central heating.
The ideal treatment would be to eliminate the cause of the problem but that is not always possible. People need to take certain medications and could put their health at risk if they stopped just so as to avoid the side effect of dry eyes. It is probably not practical to avoid air conditioning or central heating if you work in an office. So the following are available options –
Artifical tears and ocular lubricants: Your GP or Optometrist can prescribe drops and ointments, usually available without prescription, to help lubricate the eye and alleviate symptoms. Often a watery drop may be used during the day and a thicker gel-like ointment at night.
Punctal occlusion: Reversible blocking or occlusion of the punctual ducts where the tears drain away from the eye allows tears to be retained in the eye and ease symptoms. This method of treatment does not work for everyone, is only indicated in certain cases and is reversible – the plugs can simply be removed.
Omega –3 Oils: In recent years, studies have reported that a diet rich in Omega 3 oils can reduce the risk of developing dry eye and to ease symptoms. Two of the best sources of omega-3s are dark, oily, cold-water fish, and flaxseeds. Flaxseed oil is available in liquid form, capsule form and can be ground down from the natural seed.
General Advice for Dry Eye Sufferers:
Blink more frequently if working on a VDU or reading for long periods.
Avoid excessive exposure to air conditioning and central heating where possible.
If you wear contact lenses ask your optometrist about high moisture or silicone hydrogel contact lenses.
Get some extra omega-3 oils into your diet.