Are you among the millions of Americans suffering from symptoms of dry eyes? Dry eyes and dry eye symptoms are very common, particularly among older adults.
Persistent dryness, scratchiness, eye redness and a burning sensation in your eyes are common symptoms of dry eyes. These symptoms alone may prompt your eye doctor to diagnose dry eye syndrome. Another symptom of dry eyes is a “foreign body sensation,” which is a feeling that something is in your eye. And it may seem odd, but dry eye syndrome also can cause watery eyes. This is because dryness on the eye’s surface sometimes will over-stimulate production of the watery component of your tears as a protective mechanism.
Dry eye syndrome has many causes. It occurs as a part of the natural aging process (especially during menopause in women); as a side effect of many medications, such as antihistamines, antidepressants, certain blood pressure medicines, Parkinson’s medications and birth control pills; or because you live in a dry, dusty or windy climate.
If your home or office has air conditioning or a dry heating system, that too can dry out your eyes. Another cause is insufficient blinking, such as when you’re staring at a computer screen all day.
Dry eyes also are a symptom of systemic diseases such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, ocular rosacea or Sjogren’s syndrome (a triad of dry eyes, dry mouth and rheumatoid arthritis or lupus).
Long-term contact lens wear is another cause; in fact, dry eyes are the most common complaint among contact lens wearers.
Recent research indicates that contact lens wear and dry eyes can be a vicious cycle. Dry eye syndrome makes contact lenses feel uncomfortable, and evaporation of moisture from contact lenses worsens dry eye symptoms. Newer contact lens materials and lens care products can help reduce contact lens dryness.
Dry eye syndrome is more common among women, possibly due to hormonal fluctuations. A recent study also indicates that the risk of dry eyes among men increases with age.
Recent research suggests that smoking, too, can increase your risk of dry eyes.
With increased popularity of cosmetic eyelid surgery (blepharoplasty) for improved appearance, dry eye complaints now occasionally are associated with incomplete closure of eyelids following such a procedure.
Treatment for Dry Eyes
Dry eye syndrome is a chronic and typically progressive condition that may not be completely curable (depending on the cause). But the accompanying dryness, scratchiness and burning can be managed. Because dry eyes can be caused by many different things, a variety of treatment approaches are used.
Sometimes people use eye drops that are advertised to “get the red out” to treat their dry eyes. While these drops can reduce or eliminate eye redness temporarily, they may or may not be effective at lubricating your eyes, depending on the formulation.
Also, your eyes can develop a tolerance to the eye-whitening agents (vasoconstrictors) in these drops, which can cause even more redness over time. Redness-relieving eye drops can cause other adverse effects as well, especially if you use them too often.
If you wear contact lenses, be aware that many eye drops, especially artificial tears, cannot be used while your contacts are in your eyes. You’ll need to remove them before using the drops and wait 15 minutes or even longer (check the label) before reinserting your contact lenses.
The use of topical agents, such as artificial tears, are helpful in treating the symptoms of dryness. There are also other treatments available, such as punctal plugs and a prescription drop called Restasis. If you have any questions about these treatments or about dry eye in general, please feel free to contact Tri-State Ophthalmology by calling (606) 324-2451.
2841 Lexington Ave., Ashland, KY