Dry eye is a common eye condition that often causes eye irritation and discomfort. For most patients it can be readily treated with a variety of lubricating drops, gels or ointments.
Dry eye commonly affects older people (over 50’s) but it can also be associated with a number of other conditions in younger people such as blepharitis, an inflammatory condition that affects the edges of the eyelids, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Dry eyes occur when there is a disturbance in the tear film that normally keeps the eye surface moist and lubricated with each blink.
The tear film is made of 3 separate layers. The outer lipid layer, the middle aqueous/watery layer and the inner mucous layer. Each layer has a different function and the combination of these layers make up our ‘tears.’ With each blink our tears are spread over the surface of the eye.
A disturbance of any of these layers can cause different types of dry eye.
Conducting a thorough assessment of your tear function to determine which layer is abnormal will aid in the appropriate course of treatment for your dry eye problem.
What you need to do
Once you have had your eyes examined and a dry eye diagnosed there are a few different treatment options available depending on the type of dry eye problem you have, or the underlying cause e.g. blepharitis.
Treatment options include:
Artificial Tears – the most common treatment
These come in drop and gel forms and can be recommended by your Optometrist. They are very useful at relieving dry eye symptoms. Once your symptoms improve you only need to use them a few times each dail, but you often need to continue to use them regularly to keep your symptoms at bay.
These are more viscous in nature and are useful to lubricate the eye overnight. These need to be applied just before bed as they often blur vision due to their viscous nature.
For more severe cases of dry eye, punctal plugs can be considered. These are small silicone plugs that help to reduce the amount of tears that drain away from the eye. This is a quick, painless and reversible procedure performed using a microscope.
Using nutritional supplements that contain essential fatty acids such as Omega 3 and Flaxseed oil, may help to reduce the symptoms of a dry eye by helping to maintain the oily component of your tear film.
Symptoms and causes
Dry eyes can affect anyone, but are more common in the over 50’s. Women are more commonly affected than men.
Common causes include:
Age: Tear production decreases with age. In particular women are more affected by dry eyes after the menopause.
Medication: There are a long list of medications that can contribute towards dry eyes. These commonly include diruetics, some antidepressants, the contraceptive pill and blood pressure medications amongst others.
Illness: Rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus and Sjorgens syndrome have all been linked with dry eyes.
Contact Lens wear: Depending on the type of contact lenses, these can irritate or contribute towards a dry eye problem. Speak to your optician about your contact lenses if you are developing any symptoms.
If you’ve experienced an increased evaporation of tears it may be due to the following:
- A low blink rate (the number of times you blink per minute.) This can be exacerbated by excessive VDU use. Dry eye symptoms are common after working at a computer
- Low humidity, for example in air-conditioned environments or with central heating
- Windy environments
- Incomplete blink — an inability to fully close your eyes when blinking reflexly
- Blepharitis — an inflammation of the edges of the eyelids is commonly associated with dry eyes
- Unknown cause — some younger people have a low tear production for no particular reason.