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Dry eyes are an uncomfortable condition in which the ocular surface of your eyes are not sufficiently moisturised and lubricated. Tears are important because they keep the eye’s surface clean and moist. Disruption in any of the three layers of tear film (oil, water or aqueous, and mucin) can cause dry eyes. The cause of these disruptions can be multifactorial, including allergies, autoimmune disease, inflamed glands or hormonal imbalance.
Some people are more likely than others to experience dry eyes. Risk factors for dry eye include age over 50 years, female gender, living in dry or windy environments, reduced or incomplete blinking, chronic eye drop medication use, contact lens use, and previous eye surgery.
Working on the phone or computer, or reading for long periods, can also lead to dry eyes. Underlying medical conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus can lead to reduced tear production and dry eye.
Eye examination can confirm the diagnosis of dry eye. Different tests including measurement tear thickness and quality, the frequency of tear production, and how much you blink may be conducted by an ophthalmologist to diagnose dry eyes.
Symptoms of dry eyes
The symptoms that people suffering from dry eyes report including a sensation of dry eyes, eye redness, stinging and burning sensation, sensitivity to light, stringy mucus, blurred vision, eye fatigue. A foreign body sensation, like you have something in your eyes, is also common.
It can be confusing, but sometimes eye watering can occur in patients who have very dry eyes. This happens because of a defence mechanism called “reflex tearing” where your eyes overproduce tears to compensate for dry eyes. Dry and windy environments aggravate these symptoms.
Treatments for dry eyes
The treatment of dry eyes has two objectives, one is to relieve the symptoms and the other is to treat the underlying cause. The treatment depends on the severity of the condition.
The treatment for dry eyes are:
- Artificial tear drops: artificial tear eye drops are a common method used to increase eye lubrication. Artificial tears come in drops, gel or ointment formulations. Eye drops can also treat inflammation of the eye’s surface. People who suffer from chronic dry eyes have to use eye drops regularly, even when their eyes are not dry.
Drops are better suited for daytime use, and thicker ointments are used before bedtime to last longer during sleep. Using airtight goggles with thick ointments at night is a remedy that is suggested to people who wake up with dry eyes in the morning.
2. Tear duct (punctal) plugs: punctal plugs are used to reduce tear drainage, which can help in relieving dry eyes. Tear duct plugs are inserted through a painless procedure in the ophthalmologist’s office. The plug is inserted into the tear drainage punctae located in the inner part of the upper and lower eyelids. This is a temporary procedure and plugs dissolve after some time. In more severe cases, permanent plugs can also be used.
3. Medications: cyclosporine eye drops are anti-inflammatory and may be prescribed to people suffering from chronic dry eyes. This medication increases tear production and can be used twice a day. Results may take up to 6 months.
4. If any medications are the cause of your dry eyes, doctors may change those for others that don’t cause these symptoms.
5. Surgery: another way of treating dry eyes is through surgery. This surgery is conducted to permanently close the duct that drain tears into the nose. As a result of this, tears can stay in the eyes for longer and keep them lubricated.
6. Behavioural changes: these include taking breaks from using the computer and phone, cleaning eye makeup, omega-3 fatty acid supplementation, using a humidifier, and wearing UV protection sunglasses when outside.
Home remedies for dry eyes
- Closing your eyes for 20 seconds after 20 minutes of screen time is recommended for everyone, not just dry eyes sufferers.
- Warm compresses to the eyelids are a great home remedy that helps in unclogging blocked oil glands and can help relieve dry eyes.
Dry eyes are one of the most prevalent chronic eye problems around the whole world. This condition can be very irritating to deal with and in worst-case scenarios, it can cause permanent scarring and blurred vision. It is very important to monitor dry eye symptoms and diagnose the underlying cause(s), as this can help in the treatment.
Prevention of dry eyes is possible by decreasing use of computers and smartphones, or by taking frequent breaks. Early treatment of dry eyes is the most effective. If you have been noticing any of the above symptoms, or are having problems with vision because of dry eyes, organise to see an ophthalmologist for a complete assessment.