Dry Eyes: A Cry for Attention
by Robert Abel, Jr. M.D.
Many people experience the discomfort of dry eyes or an inadequate tear film over their eyes at some time in their lives. However, there are more than 10 million Americans who suffer with a significant dry eye condition that may be related to other symptoms.
The classic Sjogren's-associated dry eye condition, generally experienced in an airplane, overheated room, or a dusty workplace, affects up to two percent of the population. Its triad of symptoms includes dry eyes, dry mouth, and arthritis. Dry eyes may also be caused by medication, dehydration, inflammation of the eyelids and/or skin, previous eye surgery, systemic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid disease, lupus, sarcoidosis, and even poor blinking habits (i.e., staring at a computer).
It's important to understand that tears are more than water.
TEARS HAVE THREE SEPARATE COMPONENTS:
The tear film can be evaluated by numerous tests; however, your symptoms will often be your best guide. They can include irritation, burning, redness, mucous accumulation, itching, and light sensitivity. Mild eye muscle problems or inadequate reading glasses may aggravate symptoms. A routine eye examination will exclude conjunctivitis, or faulty glasses or contact lens as possible causes of irritation. Any lowgrade, chronic irritation may actually be a medical problem and an indicator to seek help.
THE FOLLOWING IS A LIST OF THERAPIES TO CONSIDER:
Use artificial tears: Cyclosporine A, a prescription, is a new anti-inflammatory drop. For those looking for a natural option, Similasan is a homeopathic eye drop. Researchers are looking at estrogen and essential fatty acids as other ways to fortify the tear film. Ointments at bedtime are often helpful in reducing morning symptoms. See the "Dry Eye" chapter in my book, The Eye Care Revolution, for more details.
Punctal plugs: Every time you blink, tears are lost through the puncta at the inner corner of your eyelids. By plugging the exit, any tears, man-made or supplied, remain longer.
Environment: Are your home and workplace too dry or lack humidity? Are there plants? If you suffer from dry eye symptoms, especially in the winter, placing a humidifier in your bedroom is a simple solution.
REVIEW, THEN CONSIDER CHANGING YOUR DIET:
Medications: Common pharmaceutical drugs for intestinal problems, depression, allergies, and colds may dehydrate sensitive tissues in your body. If you must take prescription drugs, you may have to compensate for this dehydration by drinking more water. Ask your pharmacist or doctor if any of your current medications may cause dry eyes.
Remember to blink: Many of us tend to get lost in work and stare at our computers, simply forgetting to blink. Other people have weak lower lids, which prevents them from completing a blink. Fortunately, with a forced or voluntary blink, you can close your eye. Inadequate eye closure while sleeping may also contribute to dry eye symptoms.
Treat associated problems: Conjunctivitis or blepharitis (inflammation of the eye lid) can contribute to symptoms, which can be alleviated with a program of short-term antibiotic therapy. Also, many may experience headaches, neckaches, and other general complaints, yet not recognize these as symptoms associated with dry eyes.
Dry eye syndrome is a frustrating condition, which may involve more than your eyes. The good news is you have many options. Monitor your symptoms. Be aware of the time of day you experience them, whether they are aggravated by reading or other activities, and non-eye symptoms that may not seem to be related. By working with your eye doctor, you can address dry eye problems ahead of time, and perhaps avoid surgery or more drastic remedies.