Dry eye describes a condition when the eye is unable to produce tears properly or produce tears of a suitable consistency.
People with dry eye may experience a stinging or burning sensation in their eye, or feel as if something is caught in their eye. The affected eye may be red and painful or emit a stringy discharge.
People with dry eye also sometimes experience blurred vision or their eyes may get tired easily, especially when reading or using a computer.
There are a number of home remedies and lifestyle changes that can reduce symptoms of dry eye and prevent the condition. This article will look at both, along with medical treatments for when home remedies do not help.
Contents of this article:
Home remedies and prevention tips
A bedside humidifier can add moisture back into the air, which may help to reduce the symptoms of dry eye.
Applying warm compresses to the eyes and then gently washing the eyelids using baby shampoo can help release the oil in the tear glands. This improves the quality of tears.
In cold weather, using a bedside humidifier at night and adding a humidifier to a furnace can help to introduce some moisture back into the dry air.
Fans, wind, and hair dryers can make eyes dry. People with dry eye should avoid too much air movement from these devices. Sunglasses may help protect the eyes from wind when outside.
There are many brands of artificial tears available on the market without prescription. Some people with dry eye find these helpful to relieve symptoms. The Sjögren's Syndrome Foundation recommend using artificial tears "frequently and regularly," even when the eyes do not feel uncomfortable.
Lubricating gels are another option. Due to their thickness, these gels tend to blur vision, so it is usually best to apply them before bedtime. However, the upper and lower eyelids should be kept free of facial creams at bedtime, as these can get into the tear film.
Experts suggest that cutting down on sugar and artificial sweeteners may help to prevent dry eye symptoms. People with diabetes should keep blood sugar levels within the recommended range to avoid eye damage.
People are also recommended to drink as much as 8-10 glasses of water a day and stop smoking.
Supplements or dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids may decrease symptoms of dry eye. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found naturally in salmon, sardines, anchovies, and flax seeds. These acids also have several other health benefits.
People with dry eye should remember to discuss the use and dosage of any nutritional supplements or vitamins with their doctor beforehand.
Dry eye may be caused by medication. If so, alternate medicine should be prescribed.
If dry eye is caused by medication, the doctor will prescribe an alternative medicine that does not list dry eye as a side effect.
However, if dry eye symptoms are caused by a disease, the doctor will attempt to treat the underlying cause.
An anti-inflammatory drug called cyclosporine is sometimes prescribed to decrease corneal damage and increase tear production. This action reduces the symptoms of dry eye.
In July 2016, a new prescription eye drop to treat dry eye was approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA described this new treatment, which is called Xiidra, as "the first medication in a new class of drugs, called lymphocyte function-associated antigen 1 (LFA-1) antagonists."
Xiidra blocks the action of a molecule that scientists believe is associated with dry eye-related inflammation. However, the manufacturers note that the "exact mechanism of action of [the drug] in dry eye disease is not known."
In severe cases of dry eye, a doctor may prescribe a short-term regimen of corticosteroid eye drops to decrease inflammation.
A simple surgical method can also be used to permanently seal the eye's "drainage holes." These are small openings at the corners of the eyelids where tears drain from the eye into the nose. By closing the drainage holes, tears will be kept on the surface of the eye for a longer period of time.
The drainage holes can also be closed temporarily using plugs made of silicon or collagen. These plugs are inserted into the drainage holes by an eyecare professional and are not painful.
Types and causes of dry eye
There are two main types of dry eye.
Aqueous tear-deficient dry eye is when the tear glands are unable to produce enough of the fluid component of tears to clean the surface of the eye properly.
This type of dry eye is also sometimes called "painful blindness dry eye." It is caused by damage to the tear gland by factors, such as aging, pollution, or side effects from some medicines.
The other main type of dry eye is known as "evaporative dry eye." This type is caused by inflammation of another set of glands located in the eyelids, the meibomian glands. The inflammation prevents these glands from producing enough of an oil that helps stop tears from evaporating too quickly.
There are some other causes of dry eye. For instance, people who use these medicines may sometimes experience dry eye as a side effect:
Dry eye may be a side effect of using a nasal decongestant.
- nasal decongestants
- some blood pressure medicines
- medications for Parkinsons's
- birth control pills
Diseases affecting the skin on or around the eyelids may also cause dry eye symptoms, as can some allergies. Immune system disorders such as Sjögren's syndrome, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis may also cause dry eye.
Long-term use of contacts can result in dry eye symptoms. This is due to loss of sensation in the dome-shaped surface that covers the front of the eye. People that have had LASIK eye surgery may have dry eye for 3-6 months after having the surgery.
Dry eye can occur to anyone, at any age. However, older adults seem to be particularly at risk of dry eye. An estimated 3 million women and 1 million men over the age of 50 in the U.S. have dry eye.
Women are known to be more at risk of dry eye when pregnant and after menopause.