Did you know that dry eye disease impacts about 30% of Canadians? It’s no wonder there’s a whole month dedicated to raising awareness about it.
July is Dry Eye Awareness Month, an annual observation aimed at educating people about the perils of dry eye disease—and, of course, the many ways to treat and prevent it. Although the common condition can be frustrating to deal with, it can be fairly simple to fight. We’re filling you in on everything you need to know.
Dry eye disease—which is typically a chronic problem—is exactly what it sounds like. The condition occurs when naturally produced tears aren’t sufficient to adequately lubricate your eyes.
Lubrication is essential for eye health, particularly on the front surface of the eye. Not only do tears allow for clearer vision, but they also minimize the risk of eye infection, and ensure the eye’s surface remains free of build-up and unwanted debris. As such, a lack of natural lubrication can lead to various eye issues.
Excess tears in the eyes travel into tiny drainage ducts in the inner corners of the eyelids, which then move into the nose. When tear production and the drainage process are not in balance, dry eyes can occur.
Symptoms associated with dry eye disease are quite pronounced. In other words, if you have dry eye disease, you’ll definitely feel it. In most cases, the condition impacts both eyes, and common symptoms include:
- Stinging and burning
- Mucus in or around the eyes
- Sensitivity to light
- Watery eyes
- Blurred vision
- Difficulty wearing contact lenses
- Difficulty driving at night
Dry eye disease is generally a result of either a lack of natural tears, or poor-quality tears. Let’s distinguish between the two:
- Insufficient amount of tears: It’s important to note that tear production tends to decline with age, which explains why dry eye disease is more prevalent among older adults. In addition, certain health conditions and medications can also contribute to a lack of tear production, as well as environmental factors, such as dry climates.
- Poor tear quality: In conjunction with a lack of tears, poor tear quality can also cause dry eye disease. Our tears are composed of aqueous fluid, fatty oil and mucus, and each element is independently important for lubricating our eyes. While the oil prevents the evaporation of the water, the mucus components encourage the tears to spread evenly over the eye. If any of these elements are lacking, dry eye symptoms can start to materialize.
There are a number of factors that can lead to a lack of tears and/or poor tear quality, including:
- Age: Although dry eye disease can develop at any age, it is especially prevalent in older adults. The majority of people over 65 experience some degree of dry eye.
- Hormonal changes: Dry eye is particularly common among women, especially during intense periods of hormonal fluctuations, such as pregnancy. Birth control pills and menopause may also stimulate dry eye symptoms.
- Medical conditions: Other conditions and illnesses can trigger dry eye symptoms, including autoimmune diseases, allergic eye disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Sjogren’s syndrome, and thyroid disorders.
- Medications: Just as certain medical conditions can cause dry eye, so, too, can medications. Decongestants, antihistamines, antidepressants, and other medications can cause dry eye symptoms, as well as drugs for birth control, Parkinson’s disease, high blood pressure and acne medications.
- Corneal nerve desensitivity: Prolonged contact lens use or laser eye surgery can spur dry eye, though symptoms are generally not permanent.
Increased tear evaporation can also contribute to dry eye disease. Essentially, small glands at the edge of our eyelids can become clogged, which can cause too much tear evaporation. There are a few central causes of increased tear evaporation, including:
- Posterior blepharitis, which is often caused by skin conditions like rosacea and/or dandruff
- Eyelid-related issues
- Reaction to eye drops
- Vitamin A deficiency
- Exposure to excessive wind or smoke
- Lack of blinking, which can result from certain conditions, including Parkinson’s Disease
In any case, if a problem arises with our tear production, it can result in the formation of unstable and dry spots on the surface of eyes, which can lead to inflammation and discomfort. Complications from dry eye disease can also arise, such as infections, damage to the corneal surface, and corneal ulcers.
Fortunately, there are numerous simple preventative measures you can incorporate into your daily routine to stave off dry eye disease:
- Drink lots of water. Becoming dehydrated can certainly contribute to dry eye symptoms.
- Blink regularly, particularly when staring at a screen for a prolonged period of time. Try the 20-20-20 rule.
- Wear sunglasses to avoid sun damage, and protective glasses to block intense wind and debris.
- Increase the humidity in your home and/or work environment with a humidifier.
- Avoid air blowing directly into your eye from blow dryers, car heaters, and fans.
- Quit smoking, which can cause dry eye disease.
- Keep your eyes lubricated with artificial tears.
If you do suffer from dry eye disease, it’s important to focus first on the root of the problem. For example, if allergies are stimulating dry eye symptoms, addressing the allergies is the best way to combat dry eye.
If posterior blepharitis—otherwise known as Meibomian gland dysfunction—is the root cause, in-office treatments including iLux, Lipiflow, intense pulsed light therapy, or radio frequency therapy can address the cause of dryness.
There are various ways to remedy dry eye symptoms, ranging from over-the-counter medications to prescription drugs, as well as simple remedies. For instance, there are drugs that directly combat eyelid inflammation, while there are others that simulate tears. You can also consider switching to specialized contact lenses designed for people with dry eye, or apply a warm washcloth to your eyelids to loosen debris.
It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution, and your treatment protocol will depend on your individual needs and the severity of your dry eye disease.
The best way to diagnose dry eye disease—and all other ocular issues—is through a comprehensive eye exam. Your optometrist can do various tests to measure the volume and quality of your tears, and prescribe the best treatment. Book an appointment today at an FYidoctors location near you!