Solutions for Helping Dry Eye
The types, symptoms and causes of dry eye and how to prevent it
Although tears can be a sign you’re upset, not having enough tears is upsetting too—and a sign of dry eye. Up to 20 percent of the population suffers from dry eye, which makes your eyes feel irritated, says ophthalmologist Dr. Mark Iacobucci of Tidewater Eye Center, with locations in Chesapeake, Portsmouth and Virginia Beach. But dry eye is more than a nuisance—suffering from dry eye can cause impaired distance and night vision as well as causing chronic inflammation and infection, Iacobucci says.
Just as there are numerous causes of dry eye, there are plenty of treatment options to give you relief, Iacobucci says.
Three Types of Dry Eye
There are three kinds of dry eye. The most common is decreased tear production, Iacobucci says. The next is decreased tear quality; tears are supposed to be 80–20 water and oil and without enough oil the tears won’t, ahem, hold water. The third type is increased tear loss from evaporation.
Dry Eye Symptoms
Dry eye may slightly resemble conjunctivitis (a.k.a. pink eye) with itchy, irritated eyes. But pink eye—which is highly contagious and means children have to stay home from school and contact lens wearers have to throw away their current contact lenses—usually causes more discharge and may cause the eyelids to stick together Iacobucci says. If you get some relief from using artificial tears, then your problem likely was dry eye, he says.
Causes of Dry Eye
A long list of medical conditions can cause dry eye, Iacobucci says. These culprits include type 2 diabetes, thyroid problems, rosacea, Sjogren’s syndrome (a connective tissue disorder in which the glands that produce tears and saliva are destroyed) as well as other connective tissue disorders such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.
Nutritional deficiencies such as a lack of essential oils or vitamin A, also can cause dry eye, he says.
Your work habits—staring at the computer for hours and seldom blinking also can cause dry eye. That pesky feeling of dry eye syndrome is a frequent occurrence for people whose work fits this description.
Another culprit: prescription and nonprescription drugs. Potential problems include some blood pressure medications, antidepressants, decongestants and antihistamines, he says.
Preventing Dry Eye
One way to prevent dry eye among computer users is to follow the 20-20 rule, he says. Every 20 minutes at your computer, look away from the computer and into the distance, close your eyes and rest them for 20 seconds. If you’re reading, stop at the end of a chapter and put drops in. Avoid sitting right under a vent. Low profile sunglasses will help keep the wind away from your eyes. Certain brands of eyeglasses sit close to your eyes and prevent evaporative loss, he says.
Treatments for Dry Eye
“People don’t have to suffer with dry eye,” Iacobucci says. “There are many effective treatments including drops and supplements.”
If medications are the cause, sometimes it’s possible to switch to another medication whose side effects don’t cause dry eye, he says.
Beyond that, the first and easiest treatment is over-the-counter artificial tears to better lubricate your eyes, he says. Most military insurance plans cover the over-the-counter drops, he adds.
If your oil glands are clogged (perhaps with makeup, ladies?) you can buy over-the-counter gentle eye scrubs or make your own by mixing one part baby shampoo with two parts water. Put a warm washcloth over your eyes to soften any crusted material. Then clean the edges of your eyelids—make sure not to get any in your eyes.
Beyond artificial tears, medicated drops also can help by increasing your eyes’ tear production, he says. “I suffer from dry eye myself,” Iacobucci says, adding that medicated drops gave him relief.
Supplements such as fish oil and flaxseed oil can help restore the proper balance of oil, he says. The best oils supplements contain triglycerides, not distilled alcohol, he says.
Bottom line: don’t self diagnose yourself with pink eye (as this writer did earlier this year), head to a general doctor asking for prescription drops, throw out your contact lenses and quarantine yourself from contact with children. Go to an ophthamlogist and get an accurate diagnosis and an effective treatment plan.
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