This condition can present in two forms – Dry Eyes and Chronic Dry Eyes. Dry eyes occur when the eye’s natural form of lubrication (tears) aren’t produced in sufficient quantity, or don’t have enough moisture in them. This can be due to personal health, or environmental conditions, such as the weather or over-use of computer screens. Chronic dry eyes is caused by an on-going internal blockage, or by a reduction in the amount of tears produced.
One of the main internal causes of dry eyes is ageing. In particular, women approaching menopause may suffer from dry eyes due to a hormonal imbalance. Other causes can include blockages in the tear ducts or the side-effects of taking medication. Environmental factors that can cause dry eyes include dust, dry or windy weather, or cigarette smoke and this is exacerbated for contact lens wearers. Dry eyes can also be associated with eye strain, affecting people who watch more than the average amount of television or who work on computers. Other factors include a lack of vitamin A and insomnia, or a lack of sleep.
Dry eyes often presents as inflammation, irritation or the feeling that there is something in the eye. Some sufferers complain of a slight pain in the eye, an itchy feeling, redness or excessive production of tears. Too many tears produced without emotional stimulation could signify that the eye is overcompensating for dry eyes.
Your optometrist will possibly advise taking the Schirmer test to ascertain whether dry eyes are present. This involves placing a small piece of filter paper in the lower eyelids to measure the amount of tear production. Fluorescent eye drops may be an alternative.
The most common treatment for dry eyes is eye drops or an ointment. Some are used for short-term dry eyes and others have preservatives which can be used for longer-term chronic dry eye syndrome. Eye drops are very useful for contact lens wearers. Some oral capsules are available which will stimulate tear production.
A non-medicinal option is punctual plugs. These block the drainage of tears and hold the tears in the eye for longer. They are available in temporary and permanent form. The drainage portals can also be sealed which stops the tears from leaving the eyes as quickly.
Tear production can lessen due to old age. If tears cannot be produced naturally, eye drops or manufactured teardrops are available at your local chemist or pharmacy.
Other preventative methods include:
● drinking plenty of water
● spending less time outdoors in hot or dry weather
● protecting the eyes from dry weather, wind or dust
● monitoring the use of medication
● eating healthy foods such as flax seed and Omega-3 fatty acids and taking vitamin A, C and E supplements
● taking breaks when watching television or using a computer screen
● keeping eyes hydrated when wearing contact lenses
● monitoring sleeping habits and increasing the number of hours asleep