Dry Eye Disease
What is Dry Eye Disease?
Dry eye disease can be temporary or chronic. It is caused by a lack of sufficient lubrication and moisture on the surface of the eye.
Dry eye disease affects millions of people world-wide and is one of the most common reasons that people seek eye care. There are two basic types of dry eye. When the tear glands aren’t producing enough tears, it’s classified as ‘aqueous deficiency’ dry eye. When the tears that are being produced just aren’t doing their job, it’s called ‘evaporative dry eye.’
Mild dry eye disease can be relieved with artificial tear treatments, but people who have a more severe form of dry eye disease require more extensive treatments.
What are the symptoms of dry eye?
Having dry eyes can be uncomfortable, and most people experience dry eyes from time to time. If you are experiencing prolonged symptoms of dry eyes, you should visit an optometrist. They can examine your eyes, diagnose and assess your condition, initiate treatment or refer you to a specialist.
Dry eye symptoms include:
- Burning or itchy eyes
- Fatigued eyes
- Eyes that are red and sore
- Photophobia (light sensitivity)
- Blurred vision
- Watery eyes
What are the causes of dry eye disease?
Dry eye disease is commonly referred to as a ‘multifactorial disease,’ which means that there are different factors that can cause it or increase your chances of getting it.
Dry eyes are common in people older than 50 because our production of tears diminishes as we age.
Normally, we blink about 15 to 20 times a minute. Each blink lubricates the eyeballs with a tear film that keeps the surface of the eyes from getting dry and irritated. But when we’re focusing on a task that requires concentration, such as reading, computer work or just staring at our phone, we tend to blink less than half as often. That’s why it’s common for people to have dry, irritated eyes at the end of the work day.
Seasonal allergies can contribute to dry eyes. Smoky, windy and dry climates can increase dry eye symptoms.
Twice as many women as men suffer from dry eye disease. They also tend to report much more severe symptoms. Put simply, if you’re a woman, you’re more likely to get dry eyes, especially as you get older. When the levels of estrogen and other hormones fluctuate, tear quality and production are affected – this is especially common during and after pregnancy and during and after menopause.
Some medicines, like antihistamines, decongestants, blood pressure medications, and antidepressants, can reduce tear production.
Long periods of time looking at a digital screen without taking a break every 20 minutes, to look in the distance for 20 seconds at a time, can result in insufficient blinking which can result in dry eye.
Laser eye surgery may temporarily cause dry eye symptoms.
People with autoimmune conditions, such as lupus or Sjögren syndrome, are more likely to have dry eye disease. Other health conditions, including diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid disorders, scleroderma or vitamin A deficiency can be contributing factors as well.
What should you expect when you see your optometrist?
If your eyes are dry, red, or painful, especially over a long period of time, you should visit an optometrist. Your Eyecare Plus optometrist will examine your eyelids and the surface of your eyes, they will also check how you blink. Other tests include measurements of your production of tears and the tear quality.
How do you treat dry eye disease?
Your optometrist will determine the type and severity of your dry eye and develop a specific management plan to appropriately address your unique condition.
There are a range of dry eye treatments including:
Artificial eye drops
Artificial lubricating drops can often provide short-term relief along with the application of a warm compress to help loosen any blockages in the oil glands in your eyelids.
A blephasteam is an eyelid-warming device which uses moisture and heat to treat meibomian gland dysfunction. The treatment sessions are short and work well for most people with meibomian gland dysfunction.
Intense Regulated Pulsed Light
Intense Regulated Pulsed Light (IRPL) can provide long-term relief. It is a non-invasive treatment which stimulates the secretion and contraction of the meibomian glands. It is quick, gentle and can offer long-lasting relief.
We know that with the prevalence of COVID-19 it is critical that we wear face masks to reduce disease transmission and prevent infection, however, recent studies have exposed dry eye as an unintended consequence of wearing a mask for long periods of time. The condition is so common today that it has a name: Mask-Associated-Dry Eye or ‘MADE.’
People with MADE report that their eyes feel dry and irritated after wearing a face mask for a prolonged amount of time.
When a mask sits loosely against the face, exhaled air is forced upwards, toward the eyes. As the streams of air continually flow over the surface of the eyes throughout the day, they can get dry and irritated.
If you think you are experiencing MADE, try these simple solutions:
- Ensure your mask fits well, especially at the top. Pinch the nose wire to prevent air from being directed at your eyes.
- Take frequent breaks from your computer and rest your eyes.
- Mention your mask use when discussing any dry eye conditions you have with your Eyecare Plus optometrist. They can provide advice on alleviating any of the symptoms of MADE and rule out any other causes.
If you experience dry eye symptoms, discuss treatment options with your local Eyecare Plus optometrist.