Dry Eye is the term used to describe eyes that do not produce enough tears, or the tears are of poor quality, and do not keep the eye properly moistened. This is a very common eye condition, and is the number one eye disease that eye doctors treat.
Dry eye is most often a result of the natural aging process, generally occurs after age forty, and is more common in women. In addition to age, dry eye can result from contact lens wear, LASIK laser treatment, environmental factors like dry climate and exposure to sun and wind, certain medications like antihistamines, oral contraceptives, antidepressants, Visine, and general health problems like arthritis. Dry eye symptoms include irritated, scratchy, dry or uncomfortable eyes, a sandy or gritty feeling, mild itching, redness, burning sensation, blurred vision, and/or excessive watering as the eyes try to comfort an overly dry eye.
When you come in for your routine eye exam, let me know if you are experiencing any of these symptoms. I will perform a few tests to determine if you have a dry eye, and then discuss treatment options. Before discussing treatment, it is very important to understand that this condition, like having allergies, cannot be cured, but we can manage the condition and make your eyes feel better.
In all cases, treatment starts with the use of artificial tears (a non-prescription eye drop) used frequently during the day, and protecting your eyes from sun, wind, and dust with sunglasses. We'll also discuss the impact of certain medications you may be using, and it's not uncommon for me to find patients are using products like Visine, which cause a dry eye. If artificial tears prove insufficient, we will use thicker, longer lasting artificial tears, or I may add an ointment at bedtime. At this point I would also start you on a non-prescription nutrient called Omega-3 Fatty Acids. This comes in a capsule form, and is just common Fish Oil, or Flaxseed Oil.
In some cases, the treatment so far is not enough to relieve symptoms, so I'll have to insert small Punctal Plugs in the tear ducts in the corner of the lid to prevent the normal tear drainage from the eye. This is a painless procedure and takes about 10 minutes. Additionally, a new drug called Restasis (an eye drop used twice a day) is started, and this solves about 99% of recalcitrant case.
Whatever treatment I prescribe, it's important to stay with it. It is true, that if left untreated, generally no harm results, but it's a lot more comfortable and your vision will be better if you keep the eyes properly moisturized. Remember dry eyes, like dry hands and dry skin, cannot be cured, and requires a lifetime commitment of treatment.