If your eyes don’t produce enough lubrication – in the form of tears – you may suffer from a condition called Dry Eye. A healthy eye produces enough tears to moisturize our corneas so that we maintain clear vision and helps rid the intrusion of a foreign substance, such as dust or an eyelash.
A common and often chronic issue, especially in older adults, dry eye can occur when there is an issue with tear production or the drainage ducts in the inner corners of the eyelids that capture and drain excess tears. As we get older, tear production continues to decrease, oftentimes as a side effect to various medications, or due to windy and dry climates, which can expedite the evaporation of tears. Additionally, when the water layer of our oil + water + mucus-made tears is inadequate, dry eye symptoms can develop.
Certain situations such as sitting in an airplane or an air-conditioned room, staring at a computer for hours or riding a bike may provoke dry eye symptoms. If not treated, prolonged dry eyes may injure the front surface of the eye and impair vision.
- A stinging, burning or scratchy sensation in your eyes
- Stringy mucus in or around your eyes
- Sensitivity to light
- Eye redness
- A sensation of having something in your eyes
- Difficulty wearing contact lenses
- Difficulty with nighttime driving
- Watery eyes, which is the body’s response to the irritation of dry eyes
- Blurred vision or eye fatigue
Dry eyes are caused by a variety of conditions, including:
- Our eyes naturally get dryer as we age; most people over age 65 experience some symptoms of dry eyes.
- A common side effect of antihistamines, decongestants, blood pressure medications, and antidepressants, is decreased tear production.
- Women who experience hormonal changes due to oral contraceptives, pregnancy and/or menopause are more likely to develop dry eye than men.
- Medical conditions. Those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, blepharitis (eyelid inflammation) and thyroid issues are more likely to experience dry eyes.
- Dry, windy climates can intensify tear evaporation, as can staring at a computer screen or being exposed to a blowing air conditioner for long durations.
- Eye devices & procedures. Long-term use of contact lenses or eye surgeries such as LASIK can also affect tear production and produce symptoms of dry eyes.
If you have persistent symptoms of dry eyes, you should see your eye doctor for an examination and treatment to keep you comfortable and prevent vision issues, but if your dry eyes are mild or temporary, you can reduce your discomfort with a few lifestyle changes:
- Take breaks from staring at your computer screen or paperwork.
- Position your computer screen below eye level so you won’t need to open your eyes as wide.
- Wear sunglasses, especially wraparounds, to reduce exposure to wind and sun.
- Use a humidifier at home or in your office to increase moisture in the air.
- Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.
- Avoid directing hair dryers, car heaters, air conditioners or fans toward your eyes.
- Ask your pharmacist or eye doctor about which preservative-free artificial tears are best for you.