DRY EYE SYNDROME

INTRODUCTION

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:

  • water
  • proteins
  • fats
  • mucus
  • 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

illnesses

side effects of medicines

hormonal changes

ageing

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

MANAGEMENT

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:

  • wind
  • hot air
  • smoke

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.

Diet

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:

  • mackerel
  • salmon
  • sardines
  • herring
  • 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.

Dr. Annie

Physician, mom and wife

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