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Dry Eye - What is it and what can be done?

  • 17 January, 2023

    Dry Eye – What is it and what can be done?

    Dry Eye – What is it and how can it be treated?

    Dry eye disease is a condition that can result from various factors, such as age, environment, and health, including some auto-immune conditions. This disease becomes a problem when your tears cannot provide the proper lubrication for your eyes. Some people don’t produce enough tears and others have poor-quality tears.

    People who work in air-conditioned environments or stare at a computer screen all day are more likely to experience dry eye symptoms. Dry eye can also be a side-effect of some medications or treatments, such as radiation therapy for cancer. You can also experience dry eye due to allergies or if you wear contact lenses.

    What is Dry Eye?

    Tear Film Deterioration

    Each time you blink, a layer of tears spreads across the surface of the eye. When the tear film is not stable then you may develop the symptoms of dry eye.

    How does this occur? Your tears have three layers consisting of oil, water and mucus respectively. Your tear film is there to coat the eye, and protect and nourish the eye’s surface. A healthy tear film will remain intact between blinks in order to maintain eye health. If the three elements of your tears aren’t correctly balanced, the tears evaporate more quickly which can lead to inflammation and damage to the ocular surface.


    Decreased Tear Production

    Dry eye can also occur when the eyes don’t produce enough tears. When your tear production is low your eyes won’t have sufficient lubrication and dry eye will develop.



    Dry eyes are a part of the natural aging process. People over the age of 65 are more susceptible to the symptoms of dry eye.



    Women are also more likely to develop dry eyes than men due to hormonal changes with age and the greater likeliness of women developing certain auto-immune conditions such as Sjögrens syndrome.



    Medicines, including decongestants, acne medications, antihistamines, and antidepressants can reduce tear production and cause dry eye.

    Speaking to a GP or optometrist about the medications you are using is important for overall eye health.


    Corneal Nerve Desensitivity

    Desensitivity of the nerves in the eye can be caused by contact lens use, laser eye surgery or certain medical conditions such as diabetes. Any symptoms of dry eyes due to surgery are usually short term and resolve given enough time.


    Increased Tear Evaporation

    Tears can evaporate too quickly in a range of different situations. One of these is when your tear glands are malfunctioning. In this case, the oil glands in your eyelids become blocked.

    If you experience dandruff or rosacea you may need to be aware that this can also cause problems with the functioning of your oil glands. By making your optometrist aware of these issues the sooner the symptoms can be relieved, and in some cases, even cured.

    Another factor that can cause your tears to evaporate quicker are the preservatives in some drops. There are products on the market today that have removed preservatives and stopped this problem, so if you are using drops, you may need to look at making a switch.


    Medical Conditions

    There are a series of conditions that can contribute to dry eyes. Rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid problems and diabetes sufferers have a higher likelihood to develop dry eyes. Other conditions include lupus, allergic eye disease, graft vs. host disease, and even Vitamin A deficiency.

    Inflammation of the eyelids (blepharitis) can cause dry eyes to develop as well as inflammation of the surface of the eye.


    Environmental Conditions

    Tears evaporate quicker in certain conditions. Being exposed to smoke, including cigarette smoke, dry climates and even wind can contribute to dry eyes.

    Dry eye can also occur if you fail to blink regularly such as when staring at a computer screen or television for long periods.



    A diet low in Vitamin A can cause dry eyes. You can add liver, carrots and broccoli to your diet.

    Omega-3 fatty acids are an important factor in eye health. You can find them in fish, walnuts and vegetable oils. Be sure to see your optometrist for more information about nutrition based remedies or supplements.


    Other reasons

    Historically using contact lenses over a long period of time was a factor in the development of dry eye. Refractive Eye surgery such as LASIK can reduce tear production and cause the symptoms of dry eyes.


    Dry Eye Symptoms

    Some common symptoms of dry eye are a feeling of grittiness or sand in the eyes, a burning sensation, episodes of excessive tearing, and sensitivity to light. Another common symptom is stringy mucus in or around the eyes.

    Dry eye can cause your eyes to be red and swollen and in extreme cases can cause blurred vision or even significant vision impairment. You may feel like you constantly have something in your eyes, have difficulty wearing your contact lenses, or have trouble driving at night.



    There are a number of obstacles people with dry eyes may face:


    Eye Infection:

    Our tears are the body’s way of protecting the surface of the eyes from infection. When you have inadequate natural tears, you may be more vulnerable to eye inflammations and infections. Damage to the corneal surface can lead to scarring and loss of vision.


    Decreased quality of life:

    Activities such as reading and other close tasks can be greatly affected by dry eyes. Studies have shown that dry eye sufferers have decreased quality of life scores compared to people who don’t suffer from dry eye.


    What can be done

    There are a variety of treatments available for dry eye, including over-the-counter and prescription medications, lifestyle changes, and artificial tears.


    Eye Drops and Artificial Tears

    Mild cases of dry eye can often be treated with eye drops or artificial tears. Eye drops can help reduce tear film evaporation and inflammation and can even help increase the production of tears.

    Artificial tears are available over the counter and come in different forms, such as gels, ointments, and drops. Your pharmacist, optometrist or GP would be able to help you to decide which of these options will work best for you.


    Prescription Medications

    If over-the-counter medications do not provide relief, prescription medications may be prescribed. This is often in more severe cases of the condition. Of course, this means a trip to your GP or optometrist for a script to be issued to you.


    Lifestyle Changes

    Lifestyle changes that can help relieve dry eye include avoiding smoke and wind drafts, using a humidifier, particularly in winter and dry environments, and blinking frequently.

    You could try wearing wrap-around sunglasses or protective eyewear regularly. You can even add shields to the tops and sides of your glasses to prevent wind and dry air gaining access.

    Take eye breaks during long or complicated tasks. Simply closing your eyes for a few minutes or blinking repeatedly for a few seconds can be helpful.

    These patterns when combined with the treatment of eye drops or artificial tears can make a huge difference.


    Conserving Tears – Surgery

    In extreme cases of dry eye oral medications or even surgery may be required. This is something that will only be suggested if the previous treatments have proven ineffective or if the disease has progressed beyond liveable limits.

    Treatment options are constantly evolving, and your optometrist will be able to advise you on the best course of action for your individual case.

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