If you are suffering from dry eye, your eyes do not make enough tears or the tears are of poor quality. Dry eye is probably the most common of all eye problems. Many adults suffer from dry eye, but most people are unaware that this condition exists. Most sufferers are middle-aged or elderly women, but men and young adults can also suffer.
You may have dry, red, burning, gritty or watery eyes which are very sensitive to bright light. In situations where you blink less often, such as when reading a book, watching television, working on a computer or driving, fewer tears are produced and the problem is more noticeable.
The symptoms of dry eye may be caused by other medical conditions, such as allergies affecting your eyes and some types of arthritis. Certain medicines can also lead to dry eye and the symptoms are made worse when the air is very dry, as with air conditioning, or smoky. This can also happen if the tiny drainage channels that your tears pass through become blocked.
Some people with dry eye find that their eyes are constantly watery. This may be confusing when you have been told that your eye symptoms are caused by your eyes being too dry. This is because your tears do not contain the right balance of mucus, water and oil to coat your eyes properly. This causes the surface of your eyes to dry out and feel irritated and your eyes react by producing large amounts of poor quality tears to try to compensate for this.
When in doubt, it is best to have your eyes examined. An eye doctor can confirm your condition or refer you to an eye specialist if necessary.
Any irritant or allergy that affects your eyes needs to be avoided if possible. Whatever the cause of dry eye it will be helpful to put artificial tear drops into your eyes as often as is needed (every hour if necessary) to keep your eyes comfortable. These drops are available with or without a prescription from a pharmacy. Ointments are also available to provide longer lasting or overnight lubrication. If you need to use the drops and ointments frequently (more than four times daily), it is advisable to avoid those containing preservatives that can irritate your eyes.
Treatment of the underlying cause can sometimes improve your symptoms. In more severe cases of dry eye it may be effective to block the tiny drainage channels (known as lachrymal ducts) which drain away the tears. This will help to moisten your eyes. This can be done by an eye specialist using temporary plugs inserted into the ducts or by treatment to block them permanently.
Things you can do to help yourself:
- Apply artificial tear drops as required
- Use humidifiers in your home, especially if you have central heating
- Drink plenty of fluids to keep the body well hydrated
- Try to blink your eyes often to produce more tears especially when you are concentrating on a task
- Try to avoid fumes, dust and smoke which can irritate your eyes
- Try not to rub your eyes as this may make them sore
- Wear wrap-around sunglasses outdoors to stop the wind drying your eyes too quickly.