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Dry Eye Syndrome

Posted 7/18/2018 by UHBlog

Are dry eyes making you feel like there is sandpaper in your eyes? Ask us how to smooth things out.

A tired senior man rubbing his eyes Got dry eyes? While it’s not an urgent medical situation, dry eyes can be highly uncomfortable for those who have it. The good news is that doctors have a number of treatment options that can bring you relief.

Dry eye syndrome is a common condition that occurs when your body can’t produce the correct quality or quantity of tears to properly lubricate your eyes. An estimated 20 percent or more of adults have dry eye problems.

Your tears keeps your eye comfortable your vision clear, says optometrist Loretta Szczotka-Flynn, OD, PhD.

“The reason we blink thousands of times a day is to spread the tear film over the eye,” she says. “This keeps the clear window to the eye, known as the cornea, smooth and regular so light can get through.”

Dry Eye Symptoms

If you have dry eye problems, it likely affects both of your eyes. Symptoms include:

  • A stinging, burning or scratchy feeling
  • Stringy mucus in or near your eyes
  • Light sensitivity
  • Red eyes
  • Feeling that you have something in your eye
  • Problems wearing contact lenses
  • Difficulty driving at night
  • Watery eyes
  • Blurred vision or eye fatigue

Risk factors include:

  • Being older than 50 because tear production starts to decrease as you age
  • Being a woman, especially if there are hormonal changes due to pregnancy, use of birth control or menopause
  • Eating a diet low in vitamin A, which some studies say contribute to the problem
  • Wearing contact lenses

Can Fish Oil Help Dry Eye?

Many people think that a diet or supplements rich in fish oils and omega-3 fatty acids can help relieve dry eye.

But a large-scale clinical trial – in which University Hospitals participated – proved otherwise. The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

In the double-blind randomized clinical trial, participants were given either olive oil or fish oil capsules. The fish oil capsules were found to be no better in helping dry eye than the olive oil placebo.

How to Treat Dry Eye

Tears have three layers. The top layer is oily and is made up of lipids, which keeps your tears from evaporating too quickly. The center contains the watery (or aqueous) portion, which nourishes the cornea and other structures around the front of the eye and behind the eyelids. The inner (or mucin) layer binds water from the aqueous layer so that the eye remains wet.

“We do have evidence that if we treat dry eye sooner rather than later we can control it before tear production shuts down entirely,” Dr. Szczotka-Flynn says. “After that, it’s irreversible, so seeing an eye doctor early is important.”

Dry eye falls into two main types, Dr. Szczotka-Flynn says:

  • Evaporative – You make enough watery tears, but they evaporate too quickly.
  • Aqueous deficiency – You don’t produce enough of the middle layer of tears to keep the eye lubricated.

Proper treatment of dry eye depends on the type you’re experiencing, Dr. Szczotka-Flynn says. An eye doctor can diagnose your exact problem and recommend the proper treatment.

Some over-the counter treatments include:

  • Artificial tears. Used to treat evaporative dry eye and supplement the outer layer of tears. There are numerous kinds and brands, so talk with your eye doctor about what’s right for you.
  • Warm compresses. This helps with the lipid layer. There are many tested brands of warm compresses, which are better than warm washcloth compresses, so ask your doctor which is best for you.
  • Lid scrubs. These range from a solution of half baby shampoo and warm water applied with a washcloth to commercially available pre-moistened towelettes. Used daily, the scrubs work by washing the base of the eyelashes to remove debris and bacteria that can plug the tear glands.

Other treatments for evaporative dry eye include prescription medications and prescription lid scrubs.

There are few home-based treatment options for aqueous deficiency, such as artificial tears.

Dry eye specialists have other advanced options, including scleral contact lenses, punctal occlusion and amniotic membranes.

Loretta Szczotka-Flynn, OD, PhD is an optometrist and director, Contact Lens Service, at the University Hospitals Dry Eye Center at University Hospitals Eye Institute. You can request an appointment with Dr. Szczotka-Flynn or any other doctor online.

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