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What is Dry Eye?

Dry eye sounds exactly like it is: A condition where the eyes don’t produce enough tears to keep the surface of the eyeball moist and protected from the environment. Tears are also important for vision, so problems with tear production can cause vision problems, as well.1,2

Dry eye is common, especially among older adults. It is more common among women than men.1 In addition to age, there are many other factors that may lead to symptoms of dry eye, as well.

What are the symptoms of dry eye?

Dry eye feels irritating like something is scratching the eye. People with dry eye also feel stinging, burning, or gritty sensations as well as periods of dryness followed by excessive tear production. Sometimes people with dry eye feel as though their eyelids are heavy and they may have blurred vision and trouble seeing. Their eyes may also become red.1

Why are tears important?

With each blink, the surface of the eye (a clear, plastic-like covering called the cornea) is coated with a thin layer of tears. The tears keep the eye moist and lubricated plus they nourish the cells on the eye’s surface. Tears are also important for protecting the eye from infection and for washing away particles that might fly in.

What causes dry eye?

Dry eye can be caused by many different factors.

Age

The most common cause of dry eye is age. Reduced tear production is a natural part of aging. Most people over 65 years old experience some symptoms of dry eye.2

Hormonal changes

Women are more likely to develop dry eye than men. This is, in part, because of the hormonal changes that take place during pregnancy and after menopause.1

Medications

Certain medicines cause dry eye as a side effect. These include antihistamines, decongestants, blood pressure medications, birth control pills, hormone replacement therapies to relieve the symptoms of menopause, Parkinson’s disease medicines, and antidepressants.1,2

Medical conditions

People with rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases are more likely to have symptoms of dry eye. The same is true for people with other medical conditions such as diabetes, thyroid disorders, and inflammation in the eye. Seasonal allergies can also contribute to symptoms of dry eye.1,2

Environmental conditions

Windy, smoky, or dry conditions can increase the speed of evaporation of tears on the surface of the eye. Additionally, people who stare at computer screens for long periods of time can fail to blink enough to keep the eye adequately moist.2

Other factors

Long-term use of contact lenses or LASIK eye surgery can reduce the production of tears and lead to symptoms of dry eye. With LASIK, the condition is generally temporary and resolves as the eye heals.

How is dry eye treated?

An exam conducted by a qualified eye doctor will help you determine the underlying cause of your symptoms. Your treatment will vary, depending on what your doctor finds. Common treatments include1,2:

  • Changing medications with side effects linked to dry eye may help relieve your symptoms.
  • Over-the-counter artificial tears may be taken as often as needed and may help with mild cases of dry eye.
  • For symptoms that don’t go away with over-the-counter products, doctors can prescribe medications to increase tear production.
  • When inflammation in the eye is the underlying cause of the problem, using prescription medicines, warm compresses, and other methods might help relieve your symptoms.
  • Surgery can be used in certain cases to plug tear ducts, which prevents tears from draining out of the eyes too quickly.

What can you do at home?

Short of taking medications, there are ways you can help prevent or relieve symptoms of dry eye by making simple lifestyle modifications. These include1,2:

  • Quitting smoking and limiting second-hand smoke exposure.
  • Taking breaks from screen time and remembering to blink regularly.
  • Increasing the humidity of the air in your home and workplace by using a humidifier.
  • Remembering to drink plenty of water so you stay hydrated.
  • Wearing sunglasses outdoors, particularly wrap-around varieties that protect your eyes from sun and wind.
  • Taking fatty acid supplements may help relieve symptoms of dry eye in some people.

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