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What is Dry Eye?

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Dry eye syndrome is a condition that is characterized by a chronic lack of sufficient lubrication and moisture on the surface of the eye and can be especially prominent during dry, winter months. Dry eye is common; with signs and symptoms that can include persistent dryness & scratchiness, a burning sensation on your eye(s), “foreign body sensation” or the feeling that something is in your eye(s), blurry vision and, surprisingly, overstimulated tear glands.

Since dry eye syndrome is so common, anyone can get it. If you are experiencing dry eye, it could be for a number of reasons such as your glands don’t make enough tears to keep your eyes wet, your tears dry up too fast, or your tears just don’t work well to keep your eyes wet. You could also be experiencing dry eye syndrome due to other risk factors.

These risk factors include: computer use, we tend to blink our eyes less fully and frequently during screen times which lead to greater tear evaporation; contact lens wear, dry eye discomfort is a primary reason why people discontinue contact lens wear; aging, dry eye is common at any age, but becomes increasingly more common later in life, especially after age 50; menopause, post-menopausal women are at greater risk for dry eye than men of the same age; indoor environment, air conditioning, ceiling fans, etc. can all decrease indoor humidity and/or hasten tear evaporation; outdoor environment, arid, dry, or windy climates and conditions can increase risk of dry eye; frequent flying, air in the cabins of planes is extremely dry and can lead to dry eye problems; smoking; health conditions, certain systemic diseases such as diabetes, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid associated diseases, and Sjorgen’s syndrome contribute to dry eye problems; medications, both prescription and non-prescription medicines can increase the risk of dry eye; and eye lid problems, lagophthalmos, or incomplete closure of eyelids while blinking or sleeping, can cause severe dry eyes.

Since dry eye is an ongoing condition, treatments may be unable to cure it. Despite this, the symptoms of dry eye can usually be successfully managed. Your eye care professional may recommend artificial tears that can alleviate the dry, scratchy feeling and foreign body sensation of dry eye. Be aware that artificial tears cannot be used during contact lens wear so you may need to remove your lenses before using the drops. Be sure to check the label and talk with your doctor about specific eye drop instructions.

If your dry eye is more serious, your eye doctor may give you a prescription for eye drops that can help your eyes make more tears. Your doctor may also suggest taking a different medicine if a medicine you take for another health condition is causing the dry eye. If something in your life or environment is causing your dry eye, or making it worse, your eye care professional may suggest some lifestyle changes to help protect your eyes. These lifestyle changes could include: quitting smoking, avoiding wind and air conditioning, using a humidifier at home to keep the air from getting too dry, limiting screen time and taking frequent breaks, wearing wraparound sunglasses when outside, drinking 8 to 10 glasses of water per day, and getting about 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night.

If you are suffering from dry eye, you are not alone. In fact, it is estimated that over 3 million dry eye cases are reported each year. Talk to your eye doctor about your dry eye and ask about some treatment options at your next eye appointment!