Do your eyes feel too dry? Does it feel as though you had a mote of dust or an eyelash in your eye? Perhaps you have an unpleasant burning, stinging sensation that is not relieved by frequent blinking? Dry eye syndrome is one of the most common ocular problems; a full one third of people experience it at some point during their lives.
What Is Dry Eye Syndrome?
The surface of the eye, also known as the cornea, is covered by a film of tears. The tear film’s job is to protect and nourish the surface of the eye by keeping it moist, providing it with sufficient oxygen and nutrients, and flushing out foreign objects. Dry eye syndrome can develop when the quantity or quality of this tear film is damaged. Insufficient tear production or excessive evaporation of the tear film can both lead to not enough moisture on the eye. The end result is that the cornea remains dry. Some of the causes may be age, menopause, certain illnesses, certain medications, or excessive use of monitors. Dry eye syndrome is almost always a chronic problem requiring ongoing treatment.
Symptoms of Dry Eye Syndrome
The eye feels itchy, gritty, burns and feels like dust or an eyelash were in it. Vision may become blurry and the eye may become sensitive to light, and may appear red. Wearing contact lenses may become particularly uncomfortable. Paradoxically, tear production may increase as a result of the irritation. It is typical that symptoms improve on blinking or keeping the eyes closed for a while.
In addition to damaging the health of the eye, the irritation of dry eye syndrome may decrease your sense of general well-being, emotional health and social functioning. Studies have shown that those living with dry eye syndrome are three times as likely to have problems reading, working on a computer, watching TV or driving. In addition to the direct costs of doctor’s visits and ongoing treatment, there are immeasurable indirect costs related to decreased productivity and efficiency and lost work time.
Preventing Dry Eye Syndrome
Drink plenty of water. Make sure you get enough omega-3 fatty acids, as studies have shown these to aid the maintenance of a healthy tear film. Wear glasses or sunglasses to protect your eyes and minimize evaporation. Do not use eye drops that constrict the blood vessels of the eye or contain cortisone because these may exacerbate the problem. If you spend a lot of time working at a monitor, set your monitor lower and tilt it up about 30 degrees. Looking down stimulates the eye to blink more often. When working for longer periods at a monitor, make a habit of looking away from the screen every 20 minutes for a few seconds at a time, and blink repeatedly. This soothes the eye and blinking helps spread the tear film uniformly over the cornea. Do not aim fans or air conditioning units, including those in the car, directly at your face because these can dry your eyes excessively. Do not smoke in enclosed spaces. Ventilate often, and check the humidity level in your home.
Treating Dry Eye Syndrome
The goal of treatment is to keep the surface of the eye moist, restore a healthy tear film, eliminate unpleasant symptoms and improve vision. Artificial tears, moistening gels, eye drops and mists are available to rehydrate dry eyes. One natural method of keeping the eyes moist is to prevent your own tears from draining away, by plugging up the tear ducts through a brief, minor procedure.
Using punctal plugs increases moisture to dry eyes naturally, and could provide relief of unpleasant symptoms when eye drops are no longer sufficient. By preventing tears from draining away, more moisture remains on the cornea. Collagen plugs much smaller than a grain of rice (2mm long and 0.4mm wide) are placed in the openings of the tear ducts in the inner corner of the eye to prevent drainage. The collagen plugs are absorbed over a 3 month period, after which new plugs can be inserted if desired. Since this technique was developed in the 1970s, it has been used successfully and safely to treat dry eye syndrome. Collagen has been proven to be harmless to the human body.
Following an examination by your ophthalmologist, the plugs can be placed painlessly, in less than a minute. Relief of your symptoms can be expected within a day or two. In the event that the plugs do not prove to be comfortable, they can be easily removed by being flushed from the tear ducts.