Dry Eye Syndrome.
Dry eye is a common problem that occurs when there are insufficient tears, causing discomfort and affecting the ocular surfaces of the eye. The tear film provides the eye with protection, optical clarity, antimicrobial and nutritional support. Dry eye is often an underestimated condition however tear deficiency has major impacts on vision, eye health and quality of life.
Symptoms of dry eye syndrome are varied and include:
- stinging or burning
- itchiness (particularly in the corners of the eyes)
- tired eyes (a feeling like you need to close the eyes)
- a feeling of grittiness, or the sensation of something foreign in the eye (like an eyelash or a grain of sand).
- eye redness
- mucus discharge around the eyelids, particularly upon waking
- damage to the cornea, in extreme cases permanent scarring
- occasional blurred vision, poor quality of vision
- difficulty with reading
- contact lens intolerance
There are many causes of dry eye, including:
- ageing (tear production slows with advancing age)
- medical conditions, such as arthritis, diabetes, hypertension,
- thyroid disease
- medications, including oral contraceptives, antidepressants, antihistamines, diuretics and beta-blockers/ antihypertensives
- dry climatic conditions, such as dry air and wind
- low humidity in air conditioned offices and commercial premises
- airborne irritants, such as cigarette smoke, dust or chemical exposure
- previous trauma to the eye (including burns)
- infrequent or incomplete blinking
- Prolonged periods of time reading or in front of a computer screen
Associated eye conditions that affect dry eye include:
- Eyelid malposition
- Laser surgery, cataract surgery.
- Blepharitis and Meibomian gland dysfunction
There is no cure for dry eye, but the condition can be managed. Treatment may aim to increase tear production, maintain tear film volume or prevent excess loss of tears, and ongoing treatment is usually required.
A range of options may be used, including:
- Make a conscious effort to blink more often.
- Use eye drops, gels or ointments to lubricate the surface of the eye (these are sometimes called ‘artificial tears supplements’).
- Boost the humidity of the air at home and at work by placing bowls of water on the desk or around the room to evaporate.
- Improve general body hydration.
- Dietary supplements containing Omega 3 fatty acids, anti oxidants and vitamins may help in improving tear quality.
- Some medications can cause dry eye. Consult your doctor about side effects of medication you take.
- Quit smoking and reduce alcohol consumption.
- Special plugs can be inserted into the tear ducts to prevent excessive loss of tears.
- Certain medical treatments using corticosteroids and antibiotics may help, but can have unwanted side effects.
- In severe cases, surgery may be considered.
As can be seen, Dry Eye can be a multifactorial problem, requiring a broad approach to treatment.