What Is Dry Eye?

Normally the eyes are kept moist by the tears that bathe the surface.  The action of blinking spreads these tears across the surface of the eyes.  Tears contain important substances that lubricate the eyes, prevent infection and slow down evaporation of the tears.  Dry eye is one of the most common of all eye conditions.  Although it predominantly affects older people, it can occur at any age.  It is also more common in women.  Dry eye can occur for several reasons – either because you do not make enough tears or because your tears evaporate too quickly.

What Are the Symptoms of Dry Eye

Stinging, burning or a gritty feeling in your eyes are common symptoms.  Your eyes may look red, feel heavy and become sensitive to bright light.  Stringy mucus may also collect on the lids and symptoms may be worst when you first wake up, but improve as the day goes on, or vice versa.

Symptoms can be triggered by various situations.  These include:

  • Activities that make you blink less often, e.g. reading, driving, working at a computer monitor or watching television.
  • Exposure to fumes, dust and cigarette smoke can be particularly aggravating.
  • Air-conditioning which can produce a dry atmosphere.

Fortunately, dry eye is unlikely to affect your sight.  However, if your eyes are very dry the symptoms may be intolerable.

What Causes Dry Eye?

The most common cause of dry eye is a failure of the glands in your eyelids to produce tears, which often occurs as part of the ageing process.  Blockage of the oil glands in the eyelids may worsen the problem.

Medicines used in the treatment of conditions, such as high blood pressure or kidney disease, can reduce the production of tears.  In addition, and less often, dry eye may be part of a medical condition, such as Sjögren’s syndrome, which occurs in people with rheumatoid arthritis and other related conditions.

Can I Still Have Dry Eye If My Eyes Water?

Yes, this is possible.  Occasionally your eyes may be so irritated by dryness that the glands in the eyelids produce more tears to compensate, causing your eyes to water.  Symptoms may persist because of poor quality tears.

Do I Need Any Tests?

Your optician can examine your eyes, assessing the amount of tears you produce and checking for any damage to the surface of the eyes.  Furthermore, they can advise you about the use of artificial tears and ways of keeping your eyes moist.  Occasionally, in more severe cases patients may be referred to see an eye specialist at the hospital.

How Can My Eyes Be Treated?

The standard treatment for dry eye is the regular use of artificial teardrops.  These drops can be used as often as needed to keep your eyes comfortable.  This may vary from a few times a day to every hour.  If you need to use drops very frequently, then try to avoid those containing preservatives, which can irritate your eyes.

Drops are available with or without prescription from Brady Opticians.  Ointments are also available, which give longer-lasting, overnight protection.

Severe dry eye can be relieved by blocking the tiny channels that drain tears into the nose.  This may help to keep your eyes moist, and can be a permanent or temporary treatment.

Special wrap-around spectacles can also be purchased from Brady Opticians to stop the wind drying your eyes.

How Can I Help Myself?

  • Apply artificial teardrops as required.
  • Lower the level of your computer monitor, so that your eyes are looking downwards while you work.  This will slow down evaporation of your tears.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to keep your body well hydrated.
  • Use a humidifier at home or at work — especially where there is air-conditioning.
  • Be aware of situations where you may blink less often, e.g. when reading, watching television and looking at a computer monitor, and try to blink more frequently when concentrating on these tasks.
  • Wear wrap-around spectacles when you are outside to stop the wind drying your eyes.
  • Avoid places where there are fumes, dust or smoke, which can irritate your eyes.
  • Careful bathing of the eyelids can help to improve the quality of your tears, so that they moisturise better and last longer on the surface of the eye.

McBride and McCreesh Opticians Lid Hygiene Method

Soak a cloth in warm/hot water, then hold it against the closed eyelids until it starts to cool.  Re-heat the cloth and continue bathing and reheating for five minutes.  After bathing, massage the lower lids to release oils from the ducts.  The hot compress raises the temperature of the eyelids and takes the oils above their melting point.  This results in a thinning and a greater flow of the oils.

Following the hot compresses, a thorough cleansing of the eyelashes and lid margins should be undertaken.  Use a solution containing a quarter of a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda, (or baby shampoo if the eyes are sensitive), to a quarter pint of warm water.  Dip a cotton bud or cotton wool ball in the solution.  Pull down the lower eyelid, and whilst looking in the mirror rub along the edge of the lower lid, concentrating on the base of the eyelashes.

Alternatively you can use a ready-prepared product such as Lid Care wipes.

Repeat the hot compresses and cleaning of the lids twice daily.

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