Chronic Dry Eye: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment
Chronic dry eye, or dry eye disease (DED), affects more than 16 million Americans, according to a recent study published in the American Journal of Ophthalmology. Safe to say, if you suffer from dry, scratchy eyes, you’re not alone. While dry eye isn’t necessarily dire, it can certainly be a nuisance to your everyday life. Here’s how to tell—and what to do—if you have chronic dry eye.
Chronic Dry Eye Symptoms
The hallmark symptom of DED is a scratchy sensation with visible redness. This is often likened to the feeling of having sand in your eyes, and may also be accompanied by burning or stinging. What confuses many people is that dry eye actually causes the eyes to tear, as your brain receives a signal to produce more tears when the eyes become overly dry for an extended period. The combination of tears and, in turn, frequent blinking can affect your vision when focusing on tasks such as driving, reading, or watching TV.
Chronic Dry Eye Causes
Do the symptoms above sound familiar? If so, the chances are high that you are experiencing dry eye. As annoying as DED can be, it is rarely associated with a serious disease unless there are other, more noticeable symptoms involved. The most common causes of dry eye are:
- Dry environment
- Smoky or windy environment
- Medication side effects (allergy medications, antihistamines and blood pressure medications are known to cause dry eye)
- Oral contraceptives
- To some degree, age and gender (the prevalence of dry eye increases with age, and studies show that women are more prone)
Chronic Dry Eye Diagnosis
An eye doctor at Athwal Eye Associates can diagnose dry eye after a brief description of your symptoms and a basic eye examination. We might also run a TearLab test, in which a small absorbent strip of paper captures your tears to be tested for tear film (a confirmation of dry eye disease). These exams are minimally invasive and do not involve any sort of pain outside of the irritation you might already be experiencing from dry eye.
Chronic Dry Eye Treatment
Treatment for mild dry eye can be as simple as using artificial tears. These replicate the natural consistency of tears, with no medication needed. For moderate to severe cases, we will usually prescribe medicated eye drops such as Restasis® or Xiidra® to counteract the inflammation that makes dry eye so uncomfortable.
Pro Tips for Dry Eye Relief
In addition to any prescription you may receive, there are a few things you can do to keep chronic dry eye at bay.
- If you need to rub your eyes, use a tissue or lid scrub to dab. Your fingers have all sorts of oils and bacteria that can worsen dry eye and also lead to compounding conditions such as a stye or pink eye.
- Create a warm compress using a clean hand towel by soaking the towel in warm water, ringing it out, and placing it in the microwave for 30 seconds. Apply for 10-15 minutes (reheating the towel as necessary), several times daily.
- Take a vitamin or supplement with omega-3 fatty acids. Fish oil, in particular, has been suggested to relieve dry eye symptoms.
- Avoid over-the-counter eye drops, as they can cause a rebound effect (meaning the condition returns, perhaps even worse, after stopping usage).
- If it’s necessary, we can conduct a procedure to insert what’s called a punctal plug into the lower lid to extend the benefits of natural tears. The procedure takes about 10 minutes in office. There is also a device called NuLids that we have begun using.
Are you suffering from what you believe to be chronic dry eye and searching for a solution? Visit Athwal Eye Associates for an examination to confirm and begin treating your symptoms. You can expect your visit to be quick, painless and productive.