Dry Eye Syndrome
Is there a dry eye in the house? That common phrase is used when something moves people to tears, but for people with dry eye syndrome, tears are not providing the moisture and lubrication the eyes need for vision and comfort.
What is dry eye syndrome?
Dry eye syndrome is an imbalance in the tear system, which are special glands around the eye. "Dry eyes are really part of a continuum of an inflammatory disorder we call ocular surface disease," says Timothy Quinn, MD, board-certified opthalmologist at St. Luke's Miller Creek Medical Clinic. In some cases, problems with the system mean the eyes may feel painful, be sensitive to light, feel gritty like there is sand in the eye, itch, appear red or have blurred vision. In other cases, people with dry eye will have too many tears. This is because the eye is not being properly lubricated, so the system creates more tears. Dry eye may also be caused by environmental conditions such as dry air, as a natural part of aging, or as a side effect of certain medications or diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Treatment for dry eye syndrome
Mild cases of dry eye syndrome are treated with over-the-counter artificial tear solutions. "Artificial tears come in different varieties, from saline to water-based gels, to oil-based drops," says Dr. Quinn. "The choice is based on clinical exam and type of tear deficiency. For patients, it's generally a matter of trial and error, and cost." Another treatment is to block the tear ducts that allow tears to drain out of the eyes. This is called conserving tears. The tear ducts may be blocked temporarily or permanently. Prescription eye drops may help the eyes generate more productive tears. There are also treatments for when the eyelid or the surface of the eye are causing the dry eye problem. "Prescription antinflammatory medications are also often prescribed," says Dr. Quinn.
How to care for dry eyes
If you have dry eyes, you can try some self-care steps to relieve symptoms:
- Blink regularly when reading or using a computer monitor for long periods of time
- Increase the humidity in the air at home or at work
- Wear sunglasses outdoors
- Drink plenty of water
- Omega-3 supplements
- Warm compresses
Some St. Luke's clinics, such as Miller Creek Medical Clinic, have ophthalmology services for routine eye care or any eye injuries or concerns. If you are experiencing dry eyes and the self-care tips don't help, please see your eye doctor or talk to your primary care physician.