Before discussing the symptoms and potential cures for dry eye syndrome or dry eye disease, our eye doctors want you first to understand some possible causes behind your dry, gritty eyes. Some of the causes of dry eyes may be seasonal, some may be genetic or lifestyle and some may be due to aging or medicinal side-effects.
Our optometrists are approached year-round with patients complaining of dry eye symptoms, but the highest instance of dry eye complaints often occurs in the winter. While people sometimes think that there is an inextricable connection between cold weather and dry eyes, it is often not the cold air outside that causes dry eyes, but the artificially warm air blowing inside that causes dry eye symptoms. The opposite also occurs in the summer, when the artificial cold air conditioning drys out the inside air.
Studies have indicated that computer or smartphone use leads to people blinking less frequently, with causes increased dry eye symptoms. Additionally, age plays a factor. While dry eye syndrome can occur at any age, it is more common in people above age 50, especially post-menopausal women. Lastly some medications (from antihistamines to antidepressants to blood pressure medication) list dry eye symptoms as possible side-effects.
Dry eyes or dry eye syndrome (DES) is an ongoing condition that treatments may be unable to cure. But the symptoms of dry eye—including dryness, scratchiness and burning—can usually be successfully managed.
Your Premier optometrist may recommend artificial tears, which are lubricating eyedrops that may alleviate the dry, scratching feeling and foreign body sensation of dry eye. Prescription eye drops for dry eye go one step further: they help increase your tear production.
If you wear contact lenses, be aware that many artificial tears cannot be used during contact lens wear. You may need to remove your lenses before using the drops. Wait 15 minutes or longer (check the label) before reinserting them. For mild dry eye, contact lens rewetting drops may be sufficient to make your eyes feel better, but the effect is usually only temporary. Switching to another lens brand could also help.
Check the label, but better yet, check with your doctor before buying any over-the-counter eye drops. Your eye doctor will know which formulas are effective and long-lasting and which are not, as well as which eye drops will work with your contact lenses.
If medications are the cause of dry eyes, discontinuing the drug generally resolves the problem. But in this case, the benefits of the drug must be weighed against the side effect of dry eyes. Sometimes switching to a different type of medication alleviates the dry eye symptoms while keeping the needed treatment. In any case, never switch or discontinue your medications without consulting with your doctor first.
Treating any underlying eyelid disease, such as blepharitis, helps as well. This may call for antibiotic or steroid drops, plus frequent eyelid scrubs with an antibacterial shampoo.
If you are considering LASIK, be aware that dry eyes may disqualify you for the surgery, at least until your dry eye condition is successfully treated. Dry eyes increase your risk for poor healing after LASIK, so most surgeons will want to treat the dry eyes first, to ensure a good LASIK outcome. This goes for other types of vision correction surgery, as well.