Dry eye is a common eye condition caused by decreased tear production or increased tear film evaporation. Any abnormality of any one of the three layers of tears (water, mucous and oil) produces an unstable tear film, resulting in symptoms of dry eye. Typical symptoms are dryness, burning and a sandy-gritty eye irritation that gets worse as the day goes on. Symptoms may also be described as itchy, scratchy, stingy or tired eyes. Although it may seem strange, dry eye can cause the eyes to water. This can happen because the eyes are irritated.
Dry eye can affect people of all ages. It can be exacerbated by many factors including the environment (particularly dry or windy weather and heaters or air conditioning), cigarette smoke, concentration for long periods of time, contact lens wear, aging, hormonal changes, medications, inflammation of the eyelids and some arthritis related conditions.
An optometrist or ophthalmologist is the most appropriate person to diagnose dry eye. These eye care practitioners will conduct tests which investigate the structures of the front of the eye, the tear film, the tear production and the tear evaporation.
The way in which dry eye is treated depends on the cause and severity of the condition. Mild dry eye can be managed by using ocular lubricants. Lubricating eye drops or gels do not cure dry eye, but they do provide symptomatic relief by replacing the tears, moisturising and lubricating the eye. If dry eye is caused by problems with inflammation of the eyelids or blockages of the glands in the eyelids, hot compresses or lid scrubs may also help treat the condition. More recently, it has also been shown that Omega 3 supplementation may help to improve dry eye symptoms.
Dry eyes can be exacerbated by smoky environments, dust and air conditioning and by our natural tendency to reduce our blink rate when concentrating. Purposefully blinking, especially during computer use or long distance driving, and resting tired eyes are basic steps that can be taken to minimise discomfort.
Nicky Carr is our full time optometrist and is also our practice owner.