We constantly produce tears which humidify our eyes. They clean and protect the eyes from foreign bodies. Made up of water, fatty acids, proteins, electrolytes and anti-bacterial substances, our tears help prevent infections. However, some people experience a long term sensation of dry eyes. So how can you recognise dry eye syndrome?
What is dry eye syndrome?
Dry eye syndrome is generally characterised by a reduction in the secretion of tears, or by an increase in their evaporation, which can cause eye discomfort and even corneal ulcers. Around 30% of consults with eye specialists relate to dry eye syndrome.
Optometry is an independent health profession, formed, regulated and recognised by the European Union and the World Health Organisation. Optometrists are professionals in eye health and the visual system, and they provide follow up for ocular diseases and offer rehabilitation of the visual system.
Dry eye syndrome occurs due to a problem with blinking or due to blepharitis, an inflammation of the eyelids which increases the evaporation of tears. These phenomena generally lead to a sensation of dryness and irritation in the eyes.
Sometimes, the tear glands react to eye dryness by overproducing tears, which is referred to as paradoxical excessive tearing.
When the eyes become dry, they are less well protected against pathogens and are more susceptible to infection, inflammation, irritation or corneal ulcers.
What are the symptoms, and when should you see a specialist?
Consult an optometrist or ophthalmologist if your eye discomfort does not go away, and if you notice one or several of the following symptoms:
- a gritty sensation in the eye
- ocular discomfort
- a mild burning sensation
- blurry vision from time to time
- ocular fatigue
- the presence of mucous around the eyes
- difficulty wearing contact lenses
- sensitivity to light, wind, cold, smoke, etc,
- itchy eyes
- occasional red eyes
- excessive tearing
- wanting to close your eyes
In the case of prolonged discomfort in the eyes, consult a doctor who will do the Schirmer’s test on you. This test consists of placing a type of absorbent paper at the corner of the eye for two minutes, which allows the doctor to measure the length of the paper which has become soaked with tears, and to determine whether the person is suffering from dry eye syndrome.
Risk factors for dry eyes
- Age: people over 60 are more likely to suffer from dry eyes.
- Gender: women are twice as likely as men to suffer from dry eyes.
- Hormonal changes: Pregnant or menopausal women have a higher risk of suffering from eye dryness.
- Medication: certain medications can cause dry eyes, such as the contraceptive pill, antidepressants, pain killers, anti-convulsants, antihistamines, decongestants, diuretics, sleeping pills, anti-acne medication (roaccutane), etc.
- Working in front of a computer or a screen: which reduces the frequency of blinking, a process which keeps the eyes moist.
- The environment: air pollution, smoke, dust, air conditioning, or even wind can cause dry eyes.
- Laser eye surgery: this treatment can often lead to dry eyes which lasts 6 to 12 months.
- Sjögren syndrome: an autoimmune disease which affects the salivary glands in the mouth and the tear glands in the eyes, leading to drying up of the mucous membranes.
- Infectious conjunctivitis, allergic conjunctivitis or ocular rosacea can also cause temporary eye dryness.
How can you avoid developing dry eye syndrome?
Here are a few tips to help you avoid developing dry eye syndrome:
- Protect your eyes from being directly exposed to dry air.
- Use a humidifier in your home.
- Turn down the heating in your home or your office.
- If you go out in the sunshine, wear sun glasses.
- Try to limit your use of contact lenses.
- Avoid smoking and avoid polluted areas.
- If you work on a computer or on a screen, take regular breaks, looking into the distance for a few seconds and blinking your eyes.
- Review your medications and replace any that could be causing dry eyes, if possible.
- Wear moisture chamber glasses to protect your eyes.
- Wear goggles when you go swimming in a swimming pool, because chlorine irritates the eyes.
How to treat or relieve dry eye syndrome?
Consult your ophthalmologist or your optometrist, who will prescribe you a tailored treatment.
Generally, eye drops or artificial tears are prescribed for people affected by dry eye syndrome, in order to compensate for the deficit in tear production.
In certain cases, anti-inflammatory medications such as corticosteroids or ciclosporine eye drops may be prescribed. Moisture chamber glasses and scleral lenses can also improve eye dryness.
Your ophthalmologist may be able to suggest other solutions and treatments -don’t hesitate to make an appointment if your problem is ongoing, because wait-lists can be long!
Natural remedies and complementary treatments
Sea buckthorn oil taken orally can help treat dry eye syndrome. According to a study, taking 1 gram of this oil in gel capsule form, morning and evening for three months can lead to an improvement in symptoms of dry eyes, compared to placebo. Eyes become less red, the oil reduces the burning sensation and improves tolerance of contact lenses.
Omega 3 linked with antioxidants can also lead to an improvement in dry eyes. The necessary antioxidants are vitamin A, ascorbic acid, vitamin E, zinc, copper, magnesium, selenium, amino acids, tyrosine, cysteine and glutathione.