Dry eye is a common condition that can occur at any age but particularly affects older adults, especially women. Approximately 5 million Americans over the age of 50 suffer with dry eye. Dry eye occurs when your tears either evaporate too quickly, are not produced fully, or are of poor quality and composition. Poor quality tears are produced if there is a deficiency of any one of three components of the normal tear film – saline, oil, or mucus.
Dry eye, often occurring as a natural part of aging, is more common in women and in patients who wear contact lenses. Other causes of dry eye include:
- Eyelid conditions, such as blepharitis, entropion (eyelids turn inward), or ectropion (eyelids turn outward)
- Poorly functioning meibomian glands (located behind the lashes on all four lids) – if these glands do not produce an oil-like secretion, the tear film tends to evaporate too quickly leading to dry eye symptoms and blurry vision
- Hormonal changes – especially in women
- Certain medications such as antihistamines or antidepressants
- Certain autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis
- Environmental conditions including low humidity, smoke, and wind
- Activities such as working at a computer, driving, and watching TV
Dry eye symptoms may include:
- Stinging or burning sensation
- Itchy eyes
- Feeling of something gritty in your eye
- Eye redness
- Excessive tearing
- Blurred vision which clears with blinking
The treatment of dry eye has changed dramatically in the past 10 years with more medical and therapeutic options than ever before. It is essential for experienced physicians to work with you one-on-one and evaluate which treatment options are right for you. A variety of treatments are available to help manage dry eye, including:
- Lubricating eye drops and gels – The most common treatment for dry eye is to use over-the-counter eye drops, such as artificial tears. These help lubricate the eye and will provide temporary relief from the symptoms.
- Dietary supplements, such as fish oil or flaxseed oil.
- Prescription eye drops, such as Restasis®, which help stimulate tear production. Other prescription eye drops include antibiotics and/or steroids.
- Warm compresses and/or lid scrubs to reduce inflammation of the meibomian glands and lash follicles.
- Punctal plugs – When eye drops are not enough, your doctor may suggest using punctual plugs. These plugs are placed in the tear ducts to prevent tears from draining out. This will help conserve your tears and keep the moisture in the eye.