Q: WHY DO MY EYES ALWAYS FEEL SO IRRITATED?
A: COULD BE DRY EYE SYNDROME
Next to blurry vision, our most common ocular problem in the Valley is dry eye, and many people don’t even know they have it! Studies show that up to 1/3 of people suffer from dry eye naturally, and our dry Valley air and high degree of allergens makes it even worse.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF DRY EYE?
Some symptoms are obvious, such as a sensation of dryness or burning. But foreign body sensation, feeling as if you have an eyelash in your eye but nothing is there, is another. How about blurry vision that varies, worse at some times more than others? And quite ironically, watery eyes is yet another symptom. Many of my patients say, “No, doctor, it’s not that I don’t have enough tears, I have too many!” That is because your eyes sense irritation and produce tears in an attempt to rinse away the irritant (Note: watery eyes can also be caused by blocked tear drainage, but that is a topic for another time).
WHO IS AT RISK FOR DRY EYE?
- Computer users
- Contact lens wearers
- People who’ve had eye surgery
- People whose lids gap away from the eyeball or who sleep with their lids partially open
- People on medication for:
- high blood pressure
- teenage acne or rosacea
- overactive bladder
- People with certain systemic conditions:
WHAT CAN BE DONE TO RELIEVE SYMPTOMS?
- Make sure you are well-hydrated; your tear glands need water to produce tears!
- Avoid drafts. In the car, aim air vents away from your face. Outdoors, wear wrap-around sunglasses to keep wind away. Minimize use of ceiling fans on days your eyes feel dry. Examine the airflow at your office: do heating and air conditioning vents direct airflow at your eyes? Consider reorienting your desk.
- Remember to blink! You may say “Duh!” but studies show that blinking rates drop noticeably while reading and even more so when we use computers. Duh!!
- Eye drops
- Are all eye drops alike? Absolutely not. Newer formulations address the 3 different layers of tears: mucin, aqueous and lipid [I could give a full blown lecture here about these layers and cure your dry eye since your eyes will close when you fall asleep from boredom!]. There is no one universal drop that works for everyone, so which drop is right for you? Your eye doctor needs to carefully assess your symptoms and findings to make the proper recommendation. What is absolutely not right for dryness are drops that “take the red out” (vasoconstrictors) such as Visine. Your eyes may temporarily look better, but vasoconstrictors do not address the underlying cause of redness. And, overused, they can result in even greater redness when they wear off!
- Research and experience with patients has shown that omega-3 fatty acids found in flaxseed and fish oil improve tear quality and symptoms.
- Prescription eye drops and oral medications
- In more severe cases, topical anti-inflammatory eye drops and oral medications are used to relieve symptoms.
- Alternative treatments
- On a case-by-case basis, warm massage of the lids (sounds nice, doesn’t it?), punctal plugs and gentle scraping of the lower lid margin (don’t try this at home, kids!) are all beneficial.
- For contact lens wearers
- Certain brands of contact lenses and solutions are especially kind to dry eyes.
HOW DO I KNOW IF MY EYES ARE DRY? WHAT SHOULD I DO ABOUT IT?
A complete eye examination with special attention paid to evaluation of lids, ocular surface quality and tear film combined with discussion of symptomology is the only way to know. Doctors use various dyes and measurements to assess the degree and type of tear deficiency to make a customized recommendation for each patient.
If you have questions or suspect that you have dryness or tear quality problems, be sure to discuss them with your doctor at your next examination.