Eye Care

What is Dry Eye Syndrome & How To Treat It

While everyone might experience dry, itchy eyes from time to time, Dry Eye Syndrome is something a little more serious. It goes beyond the occasional scratchy eye and can negatively affect your day-to-day life. If it’s not properly cared for, it can have negative long-term effects on your eye health. While it can be serious, there’s no need to panic. With proper care from your doctor, a strong eye care routine, and a little know-how, you can enjoy relief from red, dry, itchy scratchy eyes.

What is Dry Eye Syndrome?

Tears are a necessary part of your optimal eye health. When your tear production isn’t functioning normally, or your tears have the wrong composition (more on that later), you start to experience some of the negative effects of chronic dry eyes [1].  Because tear production works to replenish your tear film, and the tear film provides a nice, protective layer across the surface of your eye, not treating it can lead to long-term damage to your eyes.

Some of the symptoms include:

  • Gritty feeling
  • Redness
  • Watering eyes
  • Itching and burning
  • Blurry vision
  • Trouble driving at night

The tear film has three distinct parts. The first is, as you might have guessed, water. And while water might be the more prominent ingredient in emotional tears, it still plays a key role in your everyday tear production. If your tears are lacking in water, also known as Aqueous-Deficient Dry Eye, there are a number of treatments your doctor can provide. These treatments can both help increase tear production, with over-the-counter artificial tears, or help your eyes retain their tears, with punctal plugs that slow natural tear drainage [2]. Age, hormone changes, certain medications, and Lasik are just a few causes of this kind of dry eye.

The second component to your natural tears is oil, provided to you by your meibomian glands. These glands are found in your eyelids along the lash line. Without this oil, your tears evaporate much more quickly, leaving you with those unfortunate dry eye symptoms. A number of things can affect the oil aspect of your tears and leave you with the most common form, Evaporative Dry Eye [2].

What Are the Causes?

There are a number of physical, environmental, or lifestyle factors that cause both forms of dry eye, or even leave you with a combination of both. Since evaporative dry eye is considerably more common, we’ll start there. It’s important to note that dry eye has been historically associated with the aging process, particularly among women as hormone changes can be a cause. But as digital screens have become an increasingly big part of our day-to-day lives, dry eye has become more prevalent across all age groups and genders.

Evaporative dry eye has many causes, but it might be as simple as not blinking enough. When we look at screens, our blinking rate is slowed by as much as 66% [2]. A recent study shows that an average blink rate of 18 blinks per minute drops to just 3-4 blinks per minute when looking at a screen. Without those extra blinks to replenish the tear film and the extra time your eye spends exposed to air; your tears evaporate much faster. Other factors like dry air, heaters, wind, and air circulation can all play a part in the evaporation of your tears.

Additionally, if your tear film doesn’t have enough oil acting as a protective layer, your eyes can dry out much faster. One of the biggest causes of decreased oil production is Meibomian Gland Dysfunction [2]. Essentially, the glands that secrete this oil become clogged, which can also lead to inflammation of the eyelids. A warm compress, eyelid scrub or eyelid massage can all help unclog these glands and get your oil production flowing more naturally.

What to Do if You Have Dry Eye (Or Think You Do)

It’s true that there are many different remedies for chronic dry eye. But without proper care from your doctor, you may not be treating your particular kind of dry eye or treating it as efficiently and effectively as you should. Your doctor can help make sure you’re using the right eye drops or use an in-office treatment, like LipiFlow and IPL, that will give you maximum relief. Plus, if your dry eye goes untreated long enough, it could have lasting damage. That’s reason enough not to skip your regular eye exam.

There are a few things you can incorporate into your daily routine to help manage your symptoms.

  • Start with a quality eye drop, preferably without preservatives, like this kind by FreshKote.
  • Pay attention to your blinks, especially if you spend significant amounts of time staring at a screen.
  • Use a hot compress, like the Bruder Eye Mask, to help stimulate and unclog your meibomian glands.
  • Take a few extra minutes before bed to thoroughly remove all your makeup as well as use an eyelid cleanser to remove any bacteria, debris or pollen that might irritate your eyes.
  • Set up a humidifier in your office or bedroom to provide a little extra moisture in the air.
  • Take an Omega 3 Supplement that can help promote healthy tear production.

With help from your doctor and few home remedies, you can manage your dry eye, keep your eyes healthy and get some much-needed relief.

 

[1] Lienert, J. P., Tarko, L., Uchino, M., Christen, W. G., & Schaumberg, D. A. (2016). Long-term Natural History of Dry Eye Disease from the Patient’s Perspective. Ophthalmology, 123(2), 425–433. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ophtha.2015.10.011

[2] McMonnies, C.W. Aqueous deficiency is a contributor to evaporation-related dry eye disease. Eye and Vis 7, 6 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40662-019-0172-z

[3] Patel, Sudi & Henderson, Ross & Bradley, L & Galloway, B & Hunter, L. (1991). Effect of Visual Display Unit Use on Blink Rate and Tear Stability. Optometry and vision science : official publication of the American Academy of Optometry. 68. 888-92. 10.1097/00006324-199111000-00010.

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