If you have never suffered from dry eye, you might not appreciate how important your tears are to your eye health. Without enough moisture, your eyes can become dry, itchy, red and uncomfortable. Dry eye occurs when you do not make enough tears or the tears you produce are not high quality.
The Importance of Tears
Although you might not realize it, your eyes constantly produce tears. Tears are needed to keep the front of your eyes moist and comfortable. They help remove tiny specks of debris or dust from the eyes. When something falls into your eye, tear production increases, in an attempt to wash away the foreign object.
Symptoms of Dry Eye
Dry eye symptoms include:
- A feeling that there is a foreign object in your eyes
- Gritty or sandy feeling in the eyes
- Burning and stinging
- Eye fatigue
- Blurred vision
- Pain and redness
- Difficulty reading or working on a computer for long periods of time
- Stringy discharge
- Discomfort when wearing contact lenses
- Inability to cry
Who Gets Dry Eye?
Dry eye can occur at any age; although it is most common in people over the age of 65. Hormonal changes in women during pregnancy and menopause can increase the risk of dry eye, as can the use of hormonal birth control methods, such as birth control pills.
Dry eye can also be a problem if you have worn contact lenses for many years or have had LASIK surgery to improve your vision. In some cases, LASIK can decrease tear production. Failure to blink regularly, which can occur when you stare at a computer monitor for a long time, can also trigger the problem.
No matter what your age, you may experience dry eye if you are exposed to wind, dry conditions or smoke, or have allergies. Some types of medications can affect tear production, including antidepressants, tranquilizers, hormone replacement medications, antihistamines, blood pressure medication and decongestants. If you have thyroid disease, diabetes, chronic conjunctivitis, lupus, Sjogren's syndrome or rheumatoid arthritis, you may be more likely to develop the condition.
For those who suffer from allergies, exposure to pets, pollen, or dust mites can quickly lead to red, itchy, watery eyes. Although seasonal allergies are notorious for causing eye symptoms, year-round exposure to allergens can be just as problematic. If you develop itchy, red, irritated, puffy, or watery eyes, make an appointment to see your optometrist for diagnosis and treatment recommendations.
What Causes Eye Allergies?
All allergies are caused by an overreaction of the immune system to non-threatening substances. This could be pollen, pet dander, mold spores, feathers, dust mites, perfumes, smoke, or air pollutants. When the mucous membrane covering your eyes comes into contact with one of these allergens, your immune system releases histamine and triggers a response. This causes eyes to become watery, pink or red, itchy, and puffy. You may also experience nasal allergy symptoms.
The First Step: Controlling Allergen Exposure
If you know what triggers your eye allergies, the most important preventative step to take is to limit your exposure. This may mean limiting your time spent outdoors, avoiding homes with pets, switching bed linens to remove feathers or dust mites, or having your home checked for mold. For individuals with seasonal allergies, mid-morning and early evening typically bring the highest pollen counts, so it is smart to stay indoors during those times. Also try to avoid windy days, which can blow pollens and trigger eye allergy symptoms.
Other Tips to Manage Eye Allergy Relief
Many people who suffer from allergies reach for over-the-counter antihistamine medications to manage their symptoms. Although antihistamines often reduce nasal symptoms, the American Optometric Association warns that they can actually increase irritation associated with red, itchy eyes. Antihistamines decrease tear quality and quantity, preventing your body from providing natural eye relief. Instead, ask your eye doctor about prescription medications or eye drops that may be right for you. Another important step for managing eye allergies is to avoid touching or rubbing your eyes, which can exacerbate symptoms. Cleanse your hands frequently with soap and water, and wash your bed linens and pillow cases in hot water to destroy common allergens. For contact lens wearers, allergies can be particularly challenging. Wearing contacts may become particularly uncomfortable when you have itchy, irritated eyes. Whenever possible, forego contacts and wear prescription glasses instead. If that is not an option, make sure you replace your contact lenses frequently, and talk to your optometrist about eye drops or single-use lenses.
Optometrists can offer several strategies and treatment options that will help your eyes feel more comfortable, including:
- The use of artificial tears for added moisture
- Changing a medication if dry eye is a side effect
- Treating underlying diseases and conditions that cause dry eye
- Plugging the drainage holes in your eyes to prevent tears from draining too quickly
- Changing the type of contact lenses you wear
- Recommending that you use an air purifier to remove allergens from the air
- Prescribing cyclosporine, an anti-inflammatory medicine that increases tear production
If you have a severe case of dry eye, your eye doctor may suggest punctal cautery, a minor surgical procedure that permanently plugs the drainage holes in your eyes.
Keep your eyes healthy with regular eye examinations. Is it about time for your next exam? If so, call us today to set up an appointment!