According to the American Optometrist Association, “Dry eye is a condition in which there are insufficient tears to lubricate and nourish the eye. Tears are necessary for maintaining the health of the front surface of the eye and for providing clear vision. People with dry eyes either do not produce enough tears or have a poor quality of tears. Dry eye is a common and often chronic problem, particularly in older adults.” Let’s look at causes, symptoms and potential treatments.
Persistent dryness, scratchiness, red eyes and a burning sensation are common symptoms of dry eyes. Many of us experience these symptoms at some point or other in our lives but certain characteristics such as age, gender and use of medications may make some people more susceptible to dry eye.
- Age– Dry eye is an unfortunate part of the aging process for many people. Seniors over 65 experience dry eyes at some point or another. Persistent and continued problems with dry eye should be looked at by your eye doctor.
- Gender – Due to hormonal changes women tend to experience dry eye more often then men. Menopause seems to be a key time for the initial symptoms to appear in women.
- Medications – Certain medications can reduce the amount of tear production such as: antihistamines, decongestants, blood pressure medications and antidepressants.
There are also environmental factors that may cause dry eye. These include:
- Living in a dry, dusty or windy climate.
- Working or living in an environment with dry air conditioning and or heating.
- Long-term contact lens wear – in fact it is the most common complaint of contact lens users.
- Insufficient blinking, such as when you’re staring at a computer screen all day is also an environmental factor.
Treatment – Depending upon the severity of the dry eye your doctor will try several treatments to reduce the symptoms. One of the primary approaches used to manage and treat mild cases of dry eyes is adding tears using over-the-counter artificial tear solutions. Tear duct plugs are an alternative treatment to help conserve tears. Prescription eye drops that help to increase production of tears can be recommended by your optometrist, as well as omega-3 fatty acid nutritional supplements. Be sure to visit your eye doctor if any of these symptoms occur regularly to discuss an appropriate course of treatment.