Are your eyes frequently irritated, as if they were filled with dust or sand? Are your eyes stinging or burning? Are they light sensitive? Is it more difficult to drive at night or wear contact lenses? If this is the case, you may have dry eye disease.
July is National Dry Eye Awareness Month, and we recognize the importance of eye health in overall health during this month. Dry eye is more common in people over the age of 50, according to the National Eye Institute. Nearly 5 million Americans aged 50 and up have severe dry eye symptoms, while another 20 million have less severe symptoms. Women are twice as likely as men to have the condition.
Dry eye can be managed and treated with proper care. However, anyone experiencing symptoms should consult an eye doctor to rule out an underlying medical condition. Dry eye can cause permanent visual impairment or even blindness in rare cases. Some frequently asked questions are answered below.
What is Dry Eye?
Tears continuously bathe the surface of the eye (cornea) in a healthy eye. Tears flow across the cornea with each blink. This continuous lubrication nourishes the outer surface cells and protects the eye from dust, smoke, and wind. Tears also help to focus light, which improves vision.
Dry eye disease is an umbrella term for a variety of symptoms and signs associated with compromised lubrication of the eye’s surface, i.e., decreased tear quality or quantity.
What Causes Dry Eye?
There are numerous causes of dry eye, which frequently overlap and interact. It frequently occurs in conjunction with other conditions, as a result of environmental triggers, or as a result of medication. Eye surgery, computer use, contact lens use, and low humidity can all cause or worsen dry eye.
An important factor is inflammation of the eye’s surface. Inflammation can be caused by eye disease, infection, or autoimmune conditions, and it can be exacerbated by environmental factors such as wind and dust. Blepharitis, or inflammation of the eyelids, can also cause dry eyes. Hormonal changes associated with aging are one of the most common causes. Dry eyes have been linked to hormonal changes after menopause.
Dry eyes can also be caused by autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. Furthermore, medications used to treat these diseases, such as methotrexate and cyclophosphamide, can cause or worsen dry eye.
Sjögren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disease that primarily affects women and attacks the glands that produce tears (lacrimal glands). Scleroderma and thyroid disorders are two other autoimmune diseases linked to dry eyes.
Environmental factors such as wind, smoke, and dust can aggravate dry eye symptoms. Seasonal allergies can also play a role. Antihistamines, decongestants, and medications for depression, anxiety, Parkinson’s disease, and high blood pressure can all play a role.
Dry eyes may occur as a result of laser eye surgery. What about another factor? Not blinking enough, which can occur if you work on a computer for long periods of time.
How to Treat Dry Eyes?
Artificial tears, which come in the form of drops, gel, and ointment, are an over-the-counter remedy for dry eye discomfort.
The anti-inflammatory 0.05% cyclosporine is a mainstay of dry eye treatment. In 2016, 0.05% lifitegrast was approved by the FDA as the second topical medication.
Recent advancements in inflammation reversal show promise. In severe cases, blood products are increasingly being used. Autologous and/or allogenic serum eye drops have been shown in studies to improve dry eye symptoms and signs. (Autologous drops are made from the patient’s own blood serum and plasma; allogenic drops are made from healthy volunteers’ blood serum and plasma.)
New in-office procedures are being developed to improve the function of the eyelid glands, which produce tear oil. Another in-office procedure involves a doctor inserting plugs into your tear ducts to help block them, which slows the drainage of tears from the surface of the eye. The FDA approved the first device to stimulate tear production, the intranasal tear neurostimulator, in 2017.
How to Prevent Dry Eyes?
There are several approaches to treating its symptoms. Hydration is essential. Drink plenty of water and consume less alcohol. During the winter, use a humidifier. Artificial tears should be used when flying.
It is also critical to protect your eyes from wind, dust, and smoke. Cover your eyes with goggles or wraparound sunglasses if you ski, ride a bike, or golf. Wind and blowing air from fans or heaters should be avoided. Keep in mind to blink! This is especially important when watching television or using a computer. Take regular breaks as well. Finally, get enough sleep.
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Source: National Institute of Health