What is dry eye syndrome?
Let me tell you what it ISN’T. Dry eyes do not usually cause significant vision loss. It does not cause you to go blind. Dry eyes do not mean you drank too much the night before. (Although, occasionally that is exactly what dry eye means.)
Dry eye syndrome DOES have a significant impact on overall eye health, and the symptoms can affect a person’s quality of life. It is incredibly annoying because it can cause blurry vision and it hurts a little, mostly in the form of stinging or burning. Remember that time on the beach when the wind was blowing sand in your eyes, or that time when you were driving with the top down, or that time when you were dared to put salt in your eye? Ok, forget that last one… Other symptoms include foreign body sensation, redness, light sensitivity and excessive tearing (yes, tearing).
Dry eyes are caused by an imbalance of the tear film. The tear film is composed of three layers: outer lipid (oil), middle aqueous (water), and inner mucous (gross). In dry eye syndrome, various factors disrupt the balance of these three layers. The body responds by trying to overcompensate, hence the watering.
What are the causes of dry eye syndrome?
- Eyelid disease (blepharitis or meibomianitis)
- Age and gender (the elderly and women are more affected)
- Dietary imbalance with a high omega-6: omega-3 intake ratio (translation: eating too many french fries)
- Medication (birth control pills, hormone replacement, decongestants, antidepressants, antihistamines)
- Systemic disease (Sjogren’s syndrome, diabetes, thyroid imbalances, rheumatoid arthritis)
- Contact lenses and solutions (especially multipurpose and generic solutions)
- Poorly applied cosmetics (You know the type, sealing their tear glands with eyeliner)
- Environment (dry climates, computer use, wind and smoke exposure)
How is dry eye syndrome diagnosed?
An optometrist (aka Dr. Maria) will diagnose dry eye syndrome using a variety of tests. In most cases, your eye doctor can diagnose dry eye syndrome by looking at your eyes with a high-powered microscope. A detailed patient history, including a description of the symptoms and their duration, is important in the diagnosis of dry eye syndrome. Other tests used to diagnose this condition are the Schirmer tear test (watching a strip of paper soak up your tears and measuring how far down the paper they get) and an assessment of the cornea and tear evaporation using specialized eye drops (kind of like watching paint dry).
What is the treatment for dry eye syndrome?
The following treatments can decrease the symptoms of dry eye syndrome.
- Artificial tear drops (preferably preservative free)
- Warm compresses and eyelid scrubs (a special product to cleanse the eyelids)
- Anti-inflammatory medications (such as Restasis or mild steroid eye drops)
- Punctal occlusion (blocking tear ducts to decrease tear drainage)
- Blink more fully and frequently during sustained activities (Facebooking)
- Increase the humidity in your environment
- Wear sunglasses to reduce exposure to wind and sun
- Change to a peroxide based, preservative free contact lens solution
Depending on severity, the treatment of your condition may be an involved process and may require frequent follow-up visits.
Controlling dry eye syndrome with diet
Yes, you are what you eat, so eat good stuff.
- Omega-3 fatty acids can help dry eye symptoms. (1000 mg. 3 x’s daily, we recommend Nordic Naturals) Also, eating more cold water fish, such as tuna, will help immensely.
- Diets with a high omega-6 to omega-3 ratio (15:1) are associated with an incidence of dry eye syndrome that is twice as high as that seen in diets with an ideal ratio (2:1). Watch that vegetable oil intake.
- Studies say that flax seed oil (1000 mg. daily) can improve the symptoms of dry eye syndrome in patients with Sjogren’s syndrome (a disease characterized by dry mucous membranes in the body).
- Increase water consumption
- Decrease caffeine and alcohol.
- More sleep. (IMHO, common sense just says that the less your eyes are open, the less they can dry out.)
Dry eye syndrome is a chronic disease and the symptoms are a sign of inflammation of the eye. Just as it takes time for dry eye syndrome to cause discomfort, so does the treatment take time to be effective. Be patient. Visit Unique Optique for an evaluation as well as some free samples of the above treatments.