Dry eye is a condition that is caused by a deficiency of tear production in the eyes. This particular vision condition affects a wide variety of people, both men, and women with the young and the old. Some people who live in dry wintry climates are prone to this eye condition due to the lack of humidity and dryness in the atmosphere. Also, women who are premenopausal also experience this eye condition due to hormonal changes in the body that are related to the aging process.
The eyes consist of 3 different tear layers. The first layer is called the Mucus Layer, which is the layer that is involved in the production of tears that provide protection from microbial bacteria in the eyes thereby keeping the cornea safe from infections. The second layer is called the Watery layer which provides the eyes with tear production content that consists mainly of 90% water. The third layer is called the Oily layer, which functions to prevent the evaporation of tears in the tear film on the cornea which can aid in preventing dry eyes. Dry eyes occur if one of these layers is not functioning properly.
Some causes of dry eyes include:
- Smoking, drinking coffee, wearing contact lenses and exposure to certain environmental factors such as heaters and air conditioning.
- Certain eye diseases and health conditions such as Diabetes, Glaucoma, Asthma, Lupus and’a Thyroid condition to name a few.
- Excessive Close-up Work on the Computer: When you are performing excessive close-up work on the computer you tend to decrease your rate of blinking. This decrease in blinking causes staring which is a bad visual habit that decreases the amount of tear production in the eyes thereby causing symptoms such as eye strain and dry eyes.
- Nutritional Deficiency: Scientific research indicates that a Vitamin D deficiency can cause certain eye problems related to dry eyes such as insufficient tear production in the eyes.
- Lasik Surgery Side Effect: this is often a side effect of a Lasik surgery operation as 60-700/o of the tear glands in the tear film of the cornea are cut during this surgical procedure for vision correction. This interferes with the normal functioning of the tear glands and leads to dry eye symptoms for several months to a year after surgery.
- Age: One of the negative effects of aging on the visual system includes the development of dry eyes. This is due to the fact that you lose a large percentage of your tear film production as you age. Research suggests that75% of people over the age of 60 complain of dry eye symptoms and by the time you reach this particular age you have lost a significant percentage of your tear film production.
DRY EYE SYMPTOMS AND TREATMENTS
Dry eye symptoms include dry irritated eyes, red eyes, itchiness and burning, blurry vision, grittiness, excessive tearing and watery eyes. These can be quite annoying and distressing to many people. The American Academy of Ophthalmology estimated over 3.2 million women age 50 and over 1.68 million men age 50 are affected by these eye conditions. These conditions also affect a smaller percentage of young people. If you are concerned about this eye problem, diet and drinking a lot of water can reduce dry eye.
The risk factors for dry eye are generally associated with the following age, gender, diet, work habits, environmental factors and climate. The eyes do not produce a sufficient amount of tears to lubricate and nourish the visual system. Women are more prone to this eye condition due to the fact that hormonal changes in the body contribute to a decrease in tear production. Other risk factors include the excessive consumption of caffeinated beverages such as coffee, sodas, smoking, and excessive close-up work at the computer. Individuals living in cold and winter climates are also prone to this eye problem.
Studies suggest that drinking a lot of water especially the recommended amount of 8-10 glasses per day may actually relieve the symptoms of dry eye. This is due to the fact that the body is comprised mainly of water, and it needs a sufficient amount of this mineral to function efficiently as detoxifier (flushing out toxins). The same principle applies to the visual system. However, coffee drinkers and smokers may need to drink an amount of water higher than the recommended amount of 8-10 glasses of water a day to receive sufficient relief from dry eye. Some of the water is needed to nourish and lubricate the visual system, a beneficial effect on the mucous membrane that covers the part of the eye known as the Conjunctiva. They produce a substance that creates an immune effect, neutralizing an enzyme in the eye that causes infection. ln addition to drinking lots of water, simple changes in terms of habits patterns and diet can provide relief from this problem. Abstain from coffee and smoking as this can worsen the symptoms of dry eye.
The Mayo-Clinic suggests that simple blinking eye exercises are beneficial as they stimulate the natural tear production of the eyes. Therefore, it is beneficial to get into the habit of blinking more frequently and looking up from your close up work periodically if you are a regular computer user. If you live in wintery or dry climates, wear sunglasses regularly.
Traditional medicine prescription eye drops such as Restasis provide some temporary relief but this solution causes side effects in the form of a burning sensation in the eyes. Eye exercises are ultimately effective natural alternatives to relieve or reduce the symptoms associated with dry eyes.
Additional treatments include the following:
- Wearing wraparound sunglasses when outdoors to protect eyes from the wind.
- Taking breaks from reading or doing close work so eyes can re-moisturize.
- Adjusting your computer monitor so that it is just below eye level.
- Avoiding smoke-filled areas.
CHRONIC DRY EYE
A chronic dry eye is a problem that is caused by the reduced production of tears and the lack of moist supply after the evaporation of the water film on the surface of the eyeball. It is often found among people who work all day long in front of the computer monitors and during dry seasons such as autumn and winter.
When you are experiencing chronic dry eye, you will often feel discomfort in the eyes such as stinging, irritation and pain. The white of the eyeballs gets red sometimes. It also feels like there is some foreign substance in the eyes. When this happens to the eyes, it is our nature to rub the eyes with our fingers. Well, don’t do that if you don’t want to make things worse.
- The first thing that should be done is to stop worsening the situation by touching or rubbing the eyes. Keep your hands clean, wash it with soap often, during the day in case of accidental contact.
- The second step is to alleviate the current symptoms though applying watery treatment such as artificial tears or performing cold compress with ice or cold water. If things don’t get better in a day or two, medical care should be sought.
- The third step is to keep the eyes healthy all the time. Learn to relax the muscles around the eyes with exercises such as palming. Blink the eyes often when you are using a computer or watching TV.
Non-prescription eye drops are the most common treatment. If you have chronic dry eye, it is important to use the drops even when your eyes feel fine, to keep them lubricated. Be aware that eye drops promising to “get the red out” will not relieve dryness. If your eyes dry out while you sleep, you can use a thicker lubricant, such as an ointment, at night.
Prescription eye drops
A solution called Restasis soothes eyes and may help increase tear production.
Some doctors recommend that their dry eye patients take omega-3 nutritional supplements which may change the chemical makeup of tears. This helps if your tear mixture is not quite right, causing tears to evaporate too quickly.
A small insert filled with a lubricating ingredient may be placed just inside the lower eyelid, where it provides relief from dryness all day.
To prevent tears from draining too soon from the eye, tiny temporary or permanent plugs can be fitted into the tear ducts.
ln rare cases, a problem with your eyelids may prevent them from spreading tears evenly across the eyes. Surgery may be required to correct the problem.
The most important way to keep your eyes healthy is to have them examined regularly by your eye care provider and communicate your symptoms and concerns. Don’t take chances with your eye health.
DRY EYE DROPS
The eyes are sensitive; then antibiotic eye drops without the presence of any preservatives have to be used. Eye drops are known as artificial tears. ln other cases, decongested or antibiotics without the presence of a preservative should be used as they are better and safer.
Check the eye drop container to ensure it is within expiry date on the package, has not been open for more than 28 days and it is clean around the dropper tip.
Thoroughly wash your hands to protect your sensitive eyes and eyelids from possible infection.
- Find a place where you can comfortably tip your head back.
- Pull down the lower eyelid to make a small well for the eye drops to fall into.
- Squeeze a drop or two into the lower eyelid pocket of one eye.
- Quickly apply, in the same way, to the other eye.
- Put down the bottle, close both eyes and gently push against the inner (nasal) corner of the eyes, temporarily closing the tear drainage channels to allow the eye drops to soak in and work more effectively.
Dry eye drops can be repeated as often as you feel the need for them. You could let your eyes tell you or set up a regular schedule. Keeping your eyes free from drying out completely will help to reduce the discomfort felt each time they start to dry out. It helps to keep eye drops handy in places such as by the bedside, in the office, in the living areas, in your work case, and in your car. Early treatment will prevent your eyes from drying out and help you maintain control of your tear film, keeping your eyes free from the discomfort of desiccation.
Benzalkonium chloride (BAK) is a common preservative used in more than a few artificial tear brands, please avoid it. It is recommended to avoid using eye drops with BAK as the preserving agent for any longer than a few days to a week due to the potential damage it can do to the tear film and ocular surface.
Note that eye drops for red-eye removal should also only be used for very short-term relief, no more than 2-3 days. Any longer than this and it is possible for your eyes to suffer from the ‘rebound’ effect or ‘rebound hyperemia.’
Preservative-free is always the best and doesn’t be hesitant to try a few of the above brands to see which works best for your specific situation. While it’s tempting to get treat your red or bloodshot eyes with over-the-counter drops containing strong anti-histamines, tread very carefully as rebound redness can make the problem worse.