If you have itchy, burning, aching eyes, you might be suffering from dry eye syndrome – a very common ailment that causes eye irritation due to a lack of moisture in the eye. Are you feeling other symptoms? Heavy eyes, tired eyes, light sensitivity, red eyes, blurred vision? Foreign body sensation? Watery eyes? These are all symptoms of dry eyes, too.
Get to the Bottom of It
Tears have an important function beyond showing everyone you weren’t quite ready for the end of “Old Yeller.” They lubricate your eyes, keeping them clear, clean and free of infection. It may seem simple, but the cause of dry eye syndrome is related to either a decrease of tear production or an increase of tear evaporation. When this happens, it leaves your eyes feeling uncomfortable and more open to infection. In a lot of cases, knowing what causes your dry eye syndrome may help you plan for it in the future and keep it at bay. Here are some things that can cause trouble with your tears:
- Eye surgery – though these symptoms are often temporary
- Illnesses such as diabetes, thyroid disorders, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, to name a few
- Medications, such as antihistamines, antidepressants and decongestants, medications for high blood pressure, birth control, Parkinson’s disease and acne
Common Treatment Options
First, go to your doctor to determine what’s causing your dry eyes. If you have any of the potential issues listed above, or if you’re taking any medication that may be associated with dry eyes, make sure you let your doctor know.
The most common treatment for dry eyes is to use artificial tears or lubricating eye drops, medications available over the counter that approximate the consistency of tears. Talk to your physician about which brand you should get. If your dry eye syndrome is severe, your doctor might suggest prescription-strength eye drops that also work to reduce swelling caused by dry eyes. For very serious cases, or in the case of blocked glands or other physical reasons for reduced tear flow, medical procedures may be performed to improve comfort and reduce the need for artificial tears.
What to Avoid
While it seems that some cases of dry eye syndrome might be unavoidable, researchers believe that some lifestyle changes might prevent the disorder in some patients. First and foremost, research strongly suggests a link between dry eye sufferers and smoking. While the reasons you should stop smoking are many, this is yet another one to consider. Research also suggests that avoiding unnecessary exposure to allergens may help. And try to avoid being dehydrated. Taking in the right amount of water each day can positively affect your overall health, which means you’re more likely to have more energy, have better skin, notice healthier hair, and even suffer less often from dry eye syndrome. Steer clear of activities that limit the amount of blinking you do, such as watching television, playing video games or staring at the computer.
Further research suggests a connection between less instances of dry eyes and a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Try to include fish, fish oils, canola oil, flax seed oil or walnuts and walnut oil in your diet. Talk to your doctor to see how much they recommend for your particular health.
Dr. Neema Nayeb-Hashemi is a board-certified ophthalmologist at Kelsey-Seybold’s Spring Medical and Diagnostic Center and The Woodlands Clinic. His clinical interests include cataract surgery, corneal transplantation, refractive surgery, infectious and immune diseases of the cornea and conjunctiva.