Dry eyes in the house – causes and treatments for a common vision problem

Dryness may be an asset when telling a funny story or attending a sunny summer party, but when it comes to our eyes, dry can be a serious downer.

Almost half of Americans –  48 percent – suffer from dry eyes and the itchy discomfort the condition causes. Of those Americans, 43 percent also have difficulty reading due to the symptoms.1

Yet some of the main sources of dry eyes, from drug side effects to medical ailments, are still largely misunderstood. Few people realize, for example, that dry eyes can be a syndrome, resulting from a chronic lack of moisture on the surface of the eye. This condition can lead to nonstop irritation and swelling.1

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to treat and relieve dry eyes, some of which may be in your kitchen cabinet. In the following paragraphs we will explore the symptoms of and treatments for dry eyes.

Staring down the symptoms

If your eyes feel like they are wearing tiny wool sweaters, then you likely are suffering from dry eyes. Persistent scratchiness, redness and burning are all common symptoms, as is the feeling that a foreign object is in your eye.

The causes can be far-ranging, however. Dry eyes can result from aging, medical conditions such as lupus, diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis, or as a side effect of medications, including antihistamines, antidepressants, certain blood pressure medicines, Parkinson’s medications and birth control pills. A diet low in vitamin A also can contribute to dry eyes.2

If your symptoms persist, you should have your eye doctor test for dry eye syndrome. This occurs when the glands near the eye do not produce enough tears, or a dysfunction reduces the amount of oil you produce, causing tear evaporation.3 If you do tear up, don’t let the tears fool you – sometimes eye dryness will over-stimulate production of the watery component of your tears as a protective mechanism.3

Dry eye syndrome is detected through an exam called a Schirmer test, during which the eye doctor places a thin strip of filter paper under the lower eyelid to measure tear production.

Here’s flax in your eye

Remedying dry eye means getting back our tears, which are fairly complex little things. Tears are a combination of water, for moisture; oils, for lubrication; mucus, for even spreading (sorry); and antibodies, to fight infection.4

Fortunately, relief can be relatively easy to come by. Treatment for dry eyes can range from fatty acids to eye drops. As for dry eye syndrome, while the condition is chronic, the symptoms can be managed.

Following are common methods for soothing dry eyes:

Eye drops and lubricants: Your eye doctor may prescribe lubricating eye drops that will either alleviate the symptoms or address tear shortage. Prescription eye drops called Restasis® will help the body produce more tears by reducing inflammation. Lacrisert®, a tiny insert placed inside the lower lid, releases a lubricating ingredient to the eye throughout the day.4

If you wear contacts, be advised that many eye drops cannot be used while the contacts are in. Also note that drops that promise to get the red out will not necessarily lubricate your eyes. Sixty-three percent of adults who use non-prescription eye drops for their dry eyes say the drops are only somewhat effective at best in managing their symptoms.4

Supplements and oils: What works from the outside can also work from the inside. Certain supplements, such as those containing omega-3 fatty acids, have been shown to alleviate dry eye symptoms. Salmon, sardines, cod, herring and other cold-water fish are all recognized sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Also, some eye doctors recommend flaxseed oil, which can come in the form of supplements, to relieve dry eyes.5

It may also help to drink more water, since hydration can exacerbate dry eyes.

Eye protection: The sun, wind and dust all contribute to dry eyes, as does cold weather. Sunglasses, particularly close-fitting wrap-around frames, will help to keep wind and debris away from your eyes.

Dryness is seldom a good condition for the human body, whether it involves the eyes or the skin. Treat them the same – stay well hydrated, eat good foods and protect against drying elements. Here’s hoping all your tears are happy ones.

More facts about dry eyes

Want to know more about dry eyes? Following are some findings from a survey commissioned by Allergan:

  • Among adults age 55 and older, 30 percent of men and 19 percent of women say they have experienced dry eye symptoms for more than 10 years.
  • 19 percent of adults say they use over-the-counter eye drops at least five times per week to treat dry eye symptoms.
  • 42 percent of women age 45 to 54 who have dry eye symptoms report blurred vision associated with the condition.
  • Women more frequently than men report having difficulty using a computer due to dry eye symptoms (62 vs. 44 percent).6

1. “Dry Eye Syndrome,” by Gretchyn Bailey, All About Vision, http://www.allaboutvision.com/conditions/dryeye.htm
2. “Dry Eyes,” Mayo Clinic, http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dry-eyes/basics/causes/CON-20024129
3. “Dry Eye Syndrome,” by Gretchyn Bailey, All About Vision, http://www.allaboutvision.com/conditions/dryeye.htm
4. “Flaxseed Oil Supplements May Help Dry Eyes,” by Charlene Laino, WebMD, http://www.webmd.com/eye-health/news/20111028/flaxseed-oil-supplements-may-help-dry-eyes
5. “Flaxseed Oil Supplements May Help Dry Eyes,” by Charlene Laino, WebMD, http://www.webmd.com/eye-health/news/20111028/flaxseed-oil-supplements-may-help-dry-eyes
6. “Dry Eye Syndrome,” by Gretchyn Bailey, All About Vision, http://www.allaboutvision.com/conditions/dryeye.htm