Do your eyes get dry, red, itchy and even burn nearly every afternoon? Are you suffering from fluctuating or blurred vision that causes you to blink incessantly? Sure you may have spent most of the day on the computer or reading work materials, but having extreme discomfort in your eyes is not normal – nor is it something you need to live with. Dry eye syndrome affects 20 million people in the United States – with women being the most likely to suffer. Read on to learn more about dry eye syndrome, including how to manage it and improve your eye health.
Why are my eyes so dry?
According to Dr Marguerite McDonald, MD, FACS, cornea specialist at Ophthalmic Consultants in Long Island, New York and clinical professor of opthamology at NYU School of Medicine, everyone experiences dry eyes but dry eye syndrome is more serious and long-lasting. Additionally, she says that everyone will get dry eyes over time.
“There are about 20 million people in the US with dry eye syndrome, and that number will go up as the population – particularly the baby boomer segment – ages,” says Dr McDonald.
So, what is dry eye syndrome? “The definition of dry eye syndrome is a decrease in the quality of tears as well as the amount of tears,” the eye specialist explains.
Here are a number of reasons why dry eye occurs:
- Hormones – particularly women in perimenopause or menopause
- Medications (and as people age, the more mediations they tend to take)
- Autoimmune disorders such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis or other medical conditions
- Irritants in the air or dry air
- Staring at the computer screen or reading for long periods
- Contacts left in too long
- Alcohol and smoking
- Allergies (allergies are not the same as dry eye though they aggravate each other)
Though dry eye syndrome is not life threatening, it can severely hinder your quality of life. Jacquelyn Mitchard, author of the number one New York Times bestselling novel, The Deep End of the Ocean, as well as seven other novels and four children’s books, finally got diagnosed and treatment when dry eye syndrome began to interfere with her work – and most importantly the time she spent with her family.
“I initially thought I had to live with the itchy, blurriness, and dryness of my eyes at the end of the day. I tried over the counter medications but could never find the right treatment. I got concerned when my dry eye started hindering the things that are important to me, like reading, writing and spending time with my kids,” says Mitchard.
Even more concerning to Mitchard was her and her family’s safety, particularly when dry eye syndrome started affecting her vision while driving. “I have seven kids and my eye health is critical to me as a professional, but even more so as a mother,” she says.
Treatments for dry eye syndrome
When your eyes are optimally functioning, a thin film coats your eyes, called a tear film. The tear film is made up of mucus, an acquaeous layer of salt-like solution, and lipids. Dry eye syndrome is a disorder of the tear film, causing fewer tears and/or a lower quality of the tears produced.
Dr McDonald warns that though dry eye syndrome is common (and incurable), if left untreated, it can cause damage to the eye. “The worst case scenario is that someone with dry eye syndrome can lose vision due to corneal scarring that occurs when the eye lid repeatedly closes.”
She suggests getting in to see your doctor if your dry eye symptoms are severe or long-lasting so you can get medical treatment, such as eye drops or even surgery, and make changes in your lifestyle to minimize the symptoms.
Tips to minimize dry eye syndrome
1. See your eye specialist – sooner rather than later. Mitchard says, “Make an appointment if you haven’t had a yearly check up, and bring a list of questions about your condition.” Be honest about the severity of your symptoms.
2. Take advantage of the available medications to treat dry eye syndrome. Dr McDonald recommends Restasis. “Restasis is a medicated eye drop that literally turns back the hands on the clock of tear glands,” she says. Not only does it help the body produce more tears, it helps improve the quality of the tears. There are also over the counter nighttime ointments, such as Refresh PM, that drive huge amounts of fluid on to the eyes.
3. Check your workspace. Dr McDonald says check your workspace for drafts since dry air can cause and aggravate dry eyes. “Most people aren’t aware of this, but if you strike a match over your workspace and [it flutters], there is a draft.” Even moving your desk at an angle can protect your eyes from dry air coming from vents.
4. Consider a humidifier in your home (or office). Keeping the air moist can help keep your eyes less dry. Be sure to follow manufacturer’s directions and keep it sanitary. Also, since you aren’t fighting a chest cold, do not put menthol-type products like Vicks, in the mister tray, if your humidifier has one. You want to keep the air clean of irritants.
5. Nutritional supplements. Flax seed and oil, fatty fish and fish oil supplements are effective in promoting eye health because of their high content of the good for you omega-3 fatty acids. In addition, McDonald recommends supplements specific for eye health, such as TheraTears or Omega Eye Advantage from LifeGuard Health.
6. Join the Dry Eye Book Club and spread the word. To draw attention to dry eye syndrome, Mitchard has partnered with Red Hot Mamas and Allergan, Inc. to spread awareness through DryEyeBookClub.com. The website will give you the opportunity to learn more about dry eye syndrome as well as vote on books to be included in the Top 10 Tear-Jerker Book List. By registering for the My Tears, My Rewards program, you may become one of the 100 visitors to win a signed copy Mitchard’s bestseller The Deep End of the Ocean.
Mitchard concludes, “Awareness is key in helping women get diagnosed. The Dry Eye Book Club is a reminder to them that we are the backbone of our communities and that we need to take care of ourselves.”
Dry eye syndrome may be an inevitable part of aging, but, with the array of successful and noninvasive treatments available, there is no reason to live with dry eyes. Make an appointment with your eye specialist today.