What is Dry Eye?
Dry eye is a term used to describe a group of conditions that result from inadequate wetting and lubrication of the eye. While millions of people worldwide experience dry eye, it is not always easy to diagnose and can easily be mistaken for other conditions such as infections and allergies.
Dry eye is a multi-factorial disease of the tears and ocular surface that results in symptoms of discomfort, visual disturbance, and tear film instability with potential damage to the ocular surface.
Problematic dry eyes are one of the most common problems reported to eye doctors. Dry eyes result from either a decrease in the amount of tear production, or the quality or composition of the tears produced. Common causes may include advancing age, allergies, poor diet, heating/cooling environmental circumstances, hormonal changes, health status such as diabetes, arthritis, lupus, thyroid dysfunction, chemotherapy or radiation treatments, and acne rosacea, contact lens use, computer use, and patients that have a history of LASIK surgery. In addition certain medications can contribute to dry eye symptoms such as antidepressants, antihistamines, decongestants, acne treatments, diuretics, and some blood pressure medications.
Common symptoms of dry eyes may include blurred or variable vision, sensitivity to light, dryness, burning, stinging, tired eyes, general discomfort, contact lens intolerance and gritty or foreign body sensations. Occasionally, the dry eye patient may experience a paradoxical excess or “reflex” tearing caused by the underlying eye surface irritation which makes the eyes excessively water.
Treatment of this condition may include artificial tears, gels and/or lubricating ointments at bedtime, daily eyelid hygiene scrub procedures, a prescribed medication regimen, omega-3 essential fatty acid nutritional supplements (fish and flaxseed oil), and punctal (tear drainage) occlusion of the eyelid to retain moisture.
It has been estimated that 10 to 20 percent of the U.S. population suffers from dry eye. Nearly six million women and three million men in the U.S. have moderate or severe symptoms of the condition. Scientists estimate that an additional 20 to 30 million people in this country have mild cases of dry eye. (Reference 1)
It is estimated that the rate of diagnosis of dry eye is low – at approximately five percent. (Reference 2) Dry eye can be difficult to diagnose because there are so many possible causes and contributors. Also, not everyone experiences or describes symptoms in the same way. Anyone can experience dry eye, but the condition is more common in females than in males. According to a study by scientists from Schepens Eye Research Institute (SERI) and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, nearly 3.2 million American women age 50 and older suffer from dry eye. (Reference 3)
The occurrence of dry eye increases with age. SERI reports that nearly 75 percent of people over age 65 will experience dry eye syndrome,1 and the condition occurs most often in older women after menopause. (Reference 4)
It is important that patients see an eye care professional to determine whether or not they have dry eye and to determine the appropriate therapy for the condition.
As you can see the causes and possible treatments are complex. At Five Points Eye Care an individual treatment plan will be formulated for you based on severity and known causes.
Dry Eye Helpful Tips
Here are some helpful tips if you suffer from dry eye syndrome:
- Wear sunglasses outside. This will not only reduce the aggravating glare, but will provide a “windshield” to help block the drying wind effect.
- Stay hydrated – drink plenty of water and fluids.
- In your bedroom – add a humidifier and turn OFF the fans!
- Aim vents in cars away from your face.
- Take frequent “blink breaks” when using a computer. When you concentrate on something like a computer screen or when reading your normal blink rate decreases.
- If taking hormone replacement therapy, be sure your primary care doctor knows about your tear problem in case there are alternatives.
- It is okay (and desirable) to use over-the-counter lubricants up to 4 times a day (not “get the red out drops”) as needed for extra relief. If you need them more than that unpreserved lubrication drops are preferred. Your eye doctor can recommend the best type of lubrication for you.
- Supplements that contain flax seed oil and omega-3 fatty acids can provide extra benefit.
- Avoid excessive caffeine.
- Smoking aggravates dryness.
- Be aware that environmental factors can add to your discomfort (smoke, fumes, dust).
- Airline travel can increase symptoms. Bring lubricants with you.
- Taking antihistamines for allergies can increase symptoms since they dry out the eyes.
Take our Dry Eye Questionnaire and bring it to your appointment to help us tailor a dry eye treatment plan for your individual needs.
For products specifically designed for dry eye sufferers, visit the Dry Eye Store for humidifiers, eye masks, goggles and wrap glasses.
Eye Disease Information and Resources: Dry Eye Fact Sheet. The Schepens Eye Research Institute. 2003.
Lemp MA, on behalf of Alcon Laboratories. Systane®: A Therapeutic Option for Dry Eye.
Schaumberg DA, et al. Prevalence of Dry Eye Syndrome Among U.S. Women. Am J Ophthalmol 2003;136(2):318-26.
2000 National Womens Health Resource Centers, Inc. (NWHRC). iVillage Health, Dry Eye Syndrome: Overview.