Understanding Dry Eye Syndrome
Dry eye is a common eye condition whereby the eyes do not produce enough tears for the eye to be sufficiently lubricated. This occurs for a number of reasons and can cause several uncomfortable symptoms. It’s estimated that around 7% of population suffer from dry eye, although this figure varies drastically according to age and gender (high instances in older female populations), and doesn’t include people who don’t know they have it. It’s important to understand the symptoms of dry eye and lifestyle choices that might be causing it but, thankfully, effective treatments are available. If you’re considering laser eye surgery but have dry eyes, you may need to go on a dry eye management plan prior to the procedure. We need the cornea to be as healthy as possible before committing to treating a patient, and ensuring that it’s well hydrated is a way to do this.
What are the symptoms?
There are a number of symptoms associated with dry eye disease. The level of discomfort occurring as a result of the condition varies from person to person, and you might not have all of these signs, but the only way to find out for sure is to have a professional examination.
- Tired and red eyes
- Sore or itchy eyes
- Burning sensation
- Dry sensation
- Foreign body sensation
- Light sensitivity
- Blurry vision
- Aching eyes
- Watery eyes
Most of these symptoms are interlinked; if your eyes are itchy, they’re also likely to be red, and if they feel extremely dry, chances are that comes with a burning sensation. One anomaly, however, is watery eyes; you might be wondering how dry eye disease can come with excessively watery eyes. The answer is actually very interesting and is testament to just how clever our biology is. The eye can detect when its surface is dry, in turn causing the tear ducts to go into overdrive, producing a surplus of tears to moisten the eye. The effects of this are only temporary, however, as the extra tears aren’t present for long enough to fix the condition, and aren't of the correct balance to relieve symptoms. It’s an automatic reflex reaction from the eye, but the underlying causes cannot be treated merely by adding more moisture to the eye.
What causes dry eye?
To understand why dry eye disease occurs, it’s important to know exactly what the tears in your eyes are comprised of. There are three components: one oily, one watery, and one mucus-like. Each of these elements of the tear film comes from different glands in different parts of the eye. The oily part is produced by glands in the eyelids, the watery component comes from glands above the upper eyelid, and the mucus part is produced by cells in the white of your eye.
A balance between all three components of the tear film is needed, so if a problem with any of them occurs, you could find yourself suffering with dry eyes. The tears not only keep your eyes moist – keeping dry eye at bay – but also wash away any dust or dirt, preventing infection and maintaining overall eye health. There are also lifestyle factors which can influence and bring on dry eye, which we’ll discuss in further depth shortly.
Are you increasing your risk?
There are a number of factors which make you a more likely dry eye candidate. Some of these are things which you can influence by changing habits, and some (unfortunately) are just in your biology. Steps that you can take to reduce your risk for dry eye, and potentially improve your symptoms, include:
- Cut down on your screen time or take regular breaks
- Switch from contact lenses to glasses
- Stop smoking
- Reduce your alcohol and caffeine intake
- Increase your water intake
- Use a humidifier
Studies have shown that increased screen use places strain on your eyes, and can lead to Computer Vision Syndrome – in which dry eyes play a huge part. In fact, increased outdoor activities have been found to reduce dry eye risk, as well as spending time away from screens. Smoking and alcohol consumption can cause dehydration in multiple parts of your body, and your eyes are no exception. Cut this out where you can if you find yourself suffering with dry eyes.
Contact lenses are also known to dry your eyes out, causing irritation, redness, and occasionally blurred vision. Consider switching to glasses, or think about the benefits of Laser Eye Surgery if this is something you struggle with. Finally, it’s important to think about the effects of your indoor environment on your eyes. Particularly dry air, often occurring as a result of air conditioning or central heating, can lead to dry eyes - so investing in a humidifier can help with this. You might not be able to do much about arid conditions outside, but the environment in your own home is definitely something you can – and should – control.
Dry eye risk factors which you can’t do a great deal about include:
- Being female
- Essential medications
- Menopausal changes
The biological and necessary nature of these factors doesn’t leave much room for escape. Some medications have listed side effects including dry eye, but an alternative treatment isn’t always available. However, understanding that these can increase your risk of dry eye should help you to recognise the symptoms quickly, and be able to receive a diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible.
Does poor sleep cause dry eyes?
Often, when you’re tired, your eyes can feel red, itchy and gritty. These are also symptoms of dry eye disease, so questions have been raised around whether a lack of sleep can influence the development of the condition. The short answer is yes. Studies have shown that fewer hours of sleep leads to “decreased aqueous tear secretion, increased corneal epithelial cell defects, increased corneal sensitivity and apoptosis; and induced squamous metaplasia of the corneal epithelium”. Essentially, a lack of sleep results in less moisture in the eye, and more problems with the eye’s everyday function. These findings were further supported by looking at patients diagnosed with diabetic eye disease and analysing their sleeping habits. It was found that they sleep less – and the sleep is often interrupted and of poor quality – as well as feeling tired throughout the day, and suffering from a range of sleep disorders (such as insomnia, sleeping walking and tooth grinding).
Further to this, some people sleep with their eyes slightly open, leading to further evaporation of the tear film overnight. These findings have led to discussions within the National Sleep Foundation surrounding whether or not sleep surveys should be included in dry eye examinations. If sufferers of dry eye can change some of their lifestyle habits to reduce symptoms, it should definitely be suggested by their doctor. If you find yourself struggling with any of the signs of dry eye, start by evaluating your sleeping habits. Perhaps the problem is easier to resolve than you think…
Is professional treatment available?
There are effective treatments for dry eyes, should any of the changes you make at home not work for your condition. At Optimax, we offer MiBo Thermoflo treatment, a non-invasive gel-based solution. After the gel is applied to your eye, your upper and lower lids are massaged with a heated eye pad. The combination of the gel and the pad allows the glands around your eyes to produce more oil, moistening your eye and relieving the symptoms. For more details on dry eye treatment at Optimax, including dry eye management plans, head to Eye Health at Optimax.