Dry eye is a common condition that occurs when the eyes don’t produce enough tears or when tears evaporate too quickly. It can cause symptoms such as irritation, burning, sensitivity to light, and blurred vision. Factors such as aging, medication, medical conditions, and environmental factors can contribute to dry eye. Treatment may include eye drops, medication, lifestyle changes, or procedures such as punctal plugs or meibomian gland expression.
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The diagnosis of dry eye is typically made through a comprehensive eye exam conducted by an eye doctor, such as an optometrist or ophthalmologist. The exam may include a variety of tests to evaluate the quantity and quality of tears produced by the eyes, as well as the health of the eye’s surface.
Some common tests used to diagnose dry eye include:
Schirmer’s test – This test involves placing a small strip of paper under the lower eyelid to measure the amount of tears produced over a specific period of time.
Tear breakup time (TBUT) – This test involves placing a drop of fluorescein dye on the surface of the eye and then measuring the time it takes for the tear film to break up.
Osmolarity test – This test measures the salt concentration of the tear film, which can be an indicator of dry eye.
Meibomian gland evaluation – This test evaluates the function of the oil-producing glands in the eyelids, which can contribute to dry eye.
Corneal staining – This test uses special dyes to detect damage or irregularities on the surface of the cornea, which can be a sign of dry eye.
In addition to these tests, your eye doctor may ask about your symptoms and medical history to help make a diagnosis. Once a diagnosis of dry eye is made, your doctor can work with you to develop a treatment plan to manage your symptoms and improve the health of your eyes.
There are several lifestyle changes that can help improve the symptoms of dry eye:
Blink more frequently: People tend to blink less frequently when they are using digital devices or reading, which can cause the tear film to evaporate more quickly. Make a conscious effort to blink more often to help keep the eyes lubricated.
Take breaks from digital devices: Long periods of screen time can contribute to dry eye symptoms. Take frequent breaks, look away from the screen, and blink to help reduce eye strain.
Use a humidifier: Adding moisture to the air can help prevent the eyes from becoming dry. Consider using a humidifier, especially in dry environments or during the winter months when the air is drier.
Avoid environmental irritants: Smoke, dust, and other airborne irritants can make dry eye symptoms worse. Avoid smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke, and try to keep the air clean by using air filters or keeping windows closed.
Eat a healthy diet: Omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish, nuts, and seeds can help reduce inflammation in the body and improve tear production. Incorporate these foods into your diet to help improve the health of your eyes.
Stay hydrated: Drinking plenty of water can help keep the body hydrated and reduce dry eye symptoms.
Wear sunglasses: When outside, wearing sunglasses that block ultraviolet rays can help protect the eyes from wind and sun exposure, which can contribute to dry eye symptoms.
By making these lifestyle changes, you can help reduce the symptoms of dry eye and improve the health of your eyes.
There are several risk factors that can increase the likelihood of developing dry eye:
Age: As people get older, they are more likely to develop dry eye. This is because tear production tends to decrease with age.
Gender: Women are more likely than men to develop dry eye. Hormonal changes during pregnancy, menopause, and certain phases of the menstrual cycle can contribute to decreased tear production.
Medical conditions: Certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, thyroid disorders, autoimmune diseases, and allergic reactions, can increase the risk of developing dry eye.
Medications: Certain medications, such as antihistamines, antidepressants, and blood pressure medications, can reduce tear production and contribute to dry eye.
Environmental factors: Exposure to wind, dry air, and air conditioning can contribute to dry eye symptoms. This is especially true for people who work in environments with low humidity or are exposed to smoke or dust.
Contact lenses: Wearing contact lenses for an extended period of time can cause dry eye symptoms. This is because contact lenses can interfere with the natural flow of tears and lead to increased evaporation.
Eye surgery: Certain eye surgeries, such as LASIK or cataract surgery, can cause temporary or permanent dry eye symptoms.
Genetics: Certain genetic factors can make some people more susceptible to developing dry eye.
By understanding these risk factors, individuals can take steps to prevent or manage dry eye symptoms. For example, using eye drops or artificial tears, wearing protective eyewear, and taking breaks from screen time can help reduce the impact of environmental factors.
Signs and Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of dry eye can vary from person to person and may range from mild to severe. Some common signs and symptoms of dry eye include:
Dryness: The most common symptom of dry eye is a sensation of dryness or grittiness in the eyes. This may feel like there is something in the eye or like the eye is “scratching”.
Redness: Dry eye can cause the blood vessels in the eye to become more visible, leading to redness or irritation.
Watery eyes: Ironically, some people with dry eye may also experience excessive tearing. This is because the eyes may overproduce tears in response to the dryness and irritation.
Blurred vision: Dry eye can cause vision to become blurry, especially when reading or using a computer for extended periods of time.
Sensitivity to light: Dry eye can make the eyes more sensitive to bright light or glare.
Eye fatigue: People with dry eye may experience eye fatigue or a sensation of heaviness in the eyes, especially after extended periods of use.
Difficulty wearing contact lenses: Dry eye can make it difficult to wear contact lenses, as they may become dry and uncomfortable.
Eye pain: In severe cases of dry eye, people may experience eye pain or a sensation of burning or stinging in the eyes.
While dry eye can be a chronic condition, there are treatments available to manage the symptoms and improve the health of the eyes.
The treatment for dry eye typically depends on the severity and underlying cause of the condition. Some common treatments for dry eye include:
Artificial tears: Using artificial tears or eye drops can help lubricate the eyes and relieve dryness and irritation. There are a variety of over-the-counter and prescription eye drops available, so it is important to consult with an eye doctor to determine the best type of eye drops for your specific needs.
Prescription medications: In some cases, a doctor may prescribe medications such as cyclosporine or lifitegrast to reduce inflammation and improve tear production.
Punctal plugs: Punctal plugs are small devices that can be inserted into the tear ducts to help prevent tears from draining too quickly. This can help keep the eyes moist and reduce dry eye symptoms.
Lifestyle changes: Making lifestyle changes such as taking breaks from screen time, using a humidifier, and wearing protective eyewear can help reduce dry eye symptoms.
Nutritional supplements: Omega-3 fatty acid supplements may help reduce inflammation and improve eye health.
Light therapy: In some cases, exposure to specific wavelengths of light may help improve tear production and reduce dry eye symptoms.
Surgery: In severe cases of dry eye, surgical procedures such as a salivary gland transplantation or amniotic membrane transplant may be necessary.
Who is Affected?
Dry eye is a common condition that can affect people of all ages and genders. However, it is more common in women and in people over the age of 50. In fact, it is estimated that up to 5 million Americans aged 50 and older experience symptoms of dry eye. Other groups who may be at increased risk of dry eye include people who:
Wear contact lenses: Contact lens wearers may experience dry eye symptoms, as contact lenses can absorb the natural tears in the eyes and cause irritation.
Have certain medical conditions: People with certain medical conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, Sjögren’s syndrome, or lupus may be more likely to experience dry eye.
Take certain medications: Certain medications such as antihistamines, diuretics, and antidepressants can reduce tear production and cause dry eye symptoms.
Spend a lot of time on digital devices: Extended periods of screen time can cause dry eye symptoms, as people may blink less frequently and not produce enough tears.
Have had certain types of eye surgery: Some types of eye surgery such as LASIK or cataract surgery can cause temporary or long-term dry eye symptoms.
Live in certain environments: People who live in dry or windy environments may be more likely to experience dry eye symptoms.
If you are experiencing symptoms of dry eye, it is important to consult with an eye doctor to determine the underlying cause and appropriate treatment plan.