Over 10 million Americans suffer from dry eyes. It is one of the most common problems treated by eye physicians. The usual cause is a problem with the quality and quantity of the tear film that lubricates the eyes.
Dry eye syndrome has many causes. The most common reason for dryness is the normal aging process. As we grow older, our bodies produce less oil, typically 60% less at age 65 then at age 18. This is more common in women, who have drier skin then men. Oil deficiency also affects the tear film. Since there is less oil to seal the watery layer, the tear film evaporates much faster, leaving dry areas on the cornea.
Other factors, such as hot, dry or windy climates, high altitudes, air-conditioning and cigarette smoke can also cause dry eyes. Many people find their eyes become irritated when reading or working on a computer. This is because you tend not to blink when doing these things. Just stopping to rest and blink keeps the eyes more comfortable.
Many contact lens wearers also suffer from dryness because the contacts absorb the tear film.
Certain medications, thyroid conditions, vitamin A deficiency, and diseases such as Parkinson’s and Sjogren’s can also cause dryness. Women entering menopause frequently experience dry eye problems because of hormonal changes.
One of the most common patient concerns following LASIK is an increased awareness of eye dryness. Most patients experience relief by frequent use of lubricating drops. Patients with post-operative dry eyes usually find resolution within three to six months. Healthy tear film production prior to treatment reduces surgical inflammation, sensitivity and dry eye sensation.
- Blurred vision that improves with blinking
- Excessive tearing
- Discomfort after reading, working on the computer, or watching TV
Detection and Diagnosis
Your doctor will determine the underlying cause by measuring the production, evaporation rate and the quality of the tear film.
Many people find relief from using artificial tears on a regular basis. Watery products alleviate the symptoms temporarily, while thicker drops adhere to the eye longer. Preservative-free tears are the most soothing and have less potential irritants. Avoid products that whiten the eyes, they do not have adequate lubricating qualities and can make the problem worse. A new treatment which has been very effective is Restasis® twice daily. Restasis® is often utilized before and a few months after LASIK or PRK in patients who are symptomatic.
Closing the opening of the tear drain in the eyelid with punctal plugs is another option. These plugs trap the tears on the eye, keeping it moist. Both temporary dissolvable collagen plugs or permanent silicone plugs are available.
Sometimes simple lifestyle changes can improve irritation from dry eyes. For example, drinking eight to ten glasses of water each day keeps the body hydrated and flushes impurities. Consciously make an effort to blink frequently — especially when reading or working on the computer. Avoid rubbing your eyes, which only worsens the irritation.
Dry eye problems not only cause discomfort, but also affect the health of the cornea.
The degree of dryness is tested in the office with a Schirmer Test which measures the quantity of tears and a TBUT which measures the rate of evaporation from the cornea.
Drs. Maida, Chokshi, and Hasan specialize in Dry Eye treatments and also offer state-of-the-art procedures, such as LipiFlow and Blephex.