We blink nearly 12,000 times per day. Most of us don’t notice when we do; it’s just a natural unconscious movement. But for those who suffer from dry eye syndrome, blinking can rank from being a nuisance to being downright painful. This can lead to irritated eyes, damage to the surface of the eye, an increased risk of developing an eye infection, and reduced vision capability. Dry eye is a common condition that, while not entirely curable, can be easily managed with a variety treatment methods.
BRINGING A TEAR TO THE EYE
Tears are necessary for overall eye health and clear vision. Every time you blink, a thin layer of tears is spread across the cornea of the eye. This thin layer of moisture, known as the tear film, forms a protective coat that lubricates your eyes and washes away any debris that might obscure your vision or harm your eyes. Your eyes are producing tears all the time, not just during the acts of crying, yawning, or a sudden rush of overwhelming emotion. A stable tear film prevents your eyes from becoming dry and keeps your eyes free of debris to ensure comfortable, clear vision.
Dry eye syndrome is a reduction in your eyes’ ability to produce or maintain sufficient quantity and adequate quality of naturally-occurring tears. Dry eyes are a part of the natural aging process. The majority of people over 65 experience some symptoms of dry eyes, and women are more likely to develop dry eyes due to hormonal changes caused by pregnancy, the use of oral contraceptives, and menopause. People suffering from diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis are more likely to have symptoms of dry eyes and the side effects of certain drugs such as antihistamines, blood pressure medications, and antidepressants have also been known to cause dry eyes. The condition can also be caused by situations that dry out the tear film, such as dry air from air conditioning, heat, or living in a dry, windy climate.
Dry eye can have an impact on daily activities that involve your eyes, such as reading, watching television, using the computer, driving and outdoor activities. The effects of dry eye can range from daily nuisances to more serious issues, with common symptoms including: irritation, redness, itchiness, dryness, scratchiness, burning or stinging, swelling, light sensitivity, and blurred vision. In addition, excessive tearing is also a symptom of dry eye. This may sound strange, but when your eyes become overly dry, the eye sends a distress signal to the brain for more lubrication. This can result in ‘reflex tearing‘, which causes excess tears to overflow from your eyes, but these tears do not remain in the eye long enough to cure the underlying dry eye condition.
Dry eyes can be diagnosed through a comprehensive eye examination at your local optometrist. Dry eyes can be a chronic condition, but your optometrist can prescribe treatment to keep your eyes healthy and prevent vision loss. The primary treatments offered for dry eyes include: adding tears to the eyes using over-the-counter artificial tear solutions; keeping natural tears in the eyes longer by blocking the tear ducts through which the tears normally drain with tiny silicone or gel-like plugs; or increasing tear production through nutritional supplements. Your optometrist may also recommend warm compresses and lid massage, or eyelid cleaners, to treat the inflammation of the eyelids or eye surface that contributes to the dry eyes.
In addition, you can take the following steps to reduce symptoms of dry eyes by blinking regularly when reading or staring at a computer screen for long periods of time, always wearing sunglasses when outside, increasing the humidity in the air at work and at home, and staying hydrated throughout the day by drinking plenty of water. If you are experiencing eye trouble or think you may have dry eye syndrome, contact your optometrist today.
Located in the heart of the Kelowna community, iSight Optometry has been a trusted eyecare clinic for over 60 years. From routine eye exams, to contact lens fittings, to the diagnoses of more serious eye conditions, including dry eye, our team of optometrists and staff are dedicated to providing the best possible eye care for the whole family.