Dry eye syndrome, also known as keratoconjunctivitis sicca, is a condition where the eyes do not make enough tears, or the tears evaporate too quickly. This leads to the eyes drying out and becoming red and swollen. It is a common condition and can be very uncomfortable. Tears contain water, oils, mucus and even antibodies to keep infections at bay. These products all come from tear glands, and so dry eyes means the entire tear duct system is affected. dry eye syndrome is a serious condition and help must be sought out for quick resolution of symptoms, as long-term dryness of eyes can lead to potential ulcers, and in extreme cases, blindness.
WHY ARE TEARS IMPORTANT
Your eyes are always covered by a thin layer of liquid, known as a tear film.
This liquid is made from of a mix of:
- infection-fighting cells
Your tears serve several important functions:
- they lubricate your eye, keeping it clean and free of dust
- they protect your eye against infection
- they aid sight by helping to stabilise your vision
CAUSES OF DRY EYE
Dry eye syndrome can have many different causes, including:
environmental factors, such as a hot or windy climate
side effects of medicines
However, in many cases of dry eye syndrome there is no single identifiable cause.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
The symptoms of dry eyes usually affect both eyes, and include the following:
dryness, grittiness, soreness in the eyes. Sensation of foreign body in the eye
redness of eyes
excessive watering, especially when exposed to wind
sticky eyelids that are difficult to open in the morning
blurry vision and sensitivity to excessive light
Patients diagnosed with dry eye syndrome should visit an optometrist/ophthalmologist.
Once dry eye syndrome develops, some people have recurring episodes for the rest of their lives.
There is no cure for dry eye syndrome, but a range of treatments can control your symptoms. In rare cases, more severe cases of dry eye syndrome may require surgery.
It is possible to make changes to compensate for environmental factors. For example, placing a humidifier in your home to reduce dryness, or changing your work habits to rest your eyes.
Mild to moderate cases of dry eye syndrome can usually be successfully treated using eye drops that contain ‘tear substitutes’, a liquid that is designed to mimic the properties of tears. These eye drops are available without a prescription over-the-counter (OTC) from a pharmacy.
There are many different types of eye drops, so you can switch if your original choice does not work.
SELF CARE FOR DRY EYES
Here are several self-care techniques that can be used to help prevent or reduce the symptoms of dry eye syndrome.
Keep your eyes clean
Good eye hygiene will help prevent dry eye syndrome and the associated condition of blepharitis, which is inflammation (redness and swelling) of the rims of the eyelids.
To clean your eyes:
- wet a cloth with warm water and hold it against your closed eyes for five to ten minutes
- massage your eyes by gently rolling your first finger over them in a circular motion – this will help to push out any of the mucus-like fluid from the tiny eyelid glands
- gently clean your eyelids using cotton wool and hot (but not boiling) water – a cotton bud can also be used to clean your upper and lower eyelid and remove any crustiness
Protect your eyes
Certain environments can irritate your eyes. Keep your eyes protected eyes from:
- hot air
Wraparound glasses may provide good protection. Avoid smoky environments and, if you smoke, try to quit.
Adjust your computer
Make sure that your computer workstation is positioned correctly in order to minimise eye strain. Most companies have a health and safety officer or representative who can advise you about this. Your monitor (screen) should stand at eye level or just below it.
If you use a computer, make sure that you take enough breaks away from your computer screen, and blink your eyes regularly. Taking breaks every hour to rest your eyes may help to reduce your symptoms.
Use a humidifier
A humidifier at work and at home will moisten the surrounding air. If you cannot afford a humidifier, lightly spray your curtains with water several times a day to help keep the air moist.
Open the windows for a few minutes on cold days, and for longer in the spring and summer. This will also help to keep the air moist and prevent the build-up of mould.
There is evidence to suggest that a diet high in omega-3 fats can help to prevent dry eye syndrome. The exact reasons for this are unclear, but it is known that omega-3 fats are used in the production of tears.
The best source of omega-3 fats are oily fish such as:
- fresh tuna (not canned because the canning process removes the beneficial oils)
Aim to eat at least two portions of fish a week, one of which should be oily fish.