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What is dry eye syndrome?
Dry eye syndrome is, as the name suggests, a condition in which the eyes can't make enough tears, or the tears evaporate too quickly. This causes the eyes to become dry, inflamed and uncomfortable.
More commonly and somewhat paradoxically, people with mild dry eye (or marginal dry eye) frequently complain of watery eyes, particularly in the wind, bright sunshine or when reading. This unexpected response occurs because as the eye dries and becomes sore the reflex tear system (designed to wash out bits of grit and stray eyelashes) floods the eye in an attempt to restore comfort. Unfortunately this natural eyewash lacks tear oils and mucins and usually makes the eyes more sore, as well as being very annoying.
Dry eye syndrome is a common condition, with up to a third of people experiencing it at some point in their life. While anyone can develop dry eye syndrome, it's most common in people over the age of 60. The condition is also more common in women than men.
The symptoms of dry eye syndrome can be mild or severe and may include:
• Feelings of dryness, grittiness or soreness in both eyes, which get worse as the day goes on
• Redness of the eyes
• Watery eyes, particularly when exposed to wind
• Eyelids stuck together on waking up
Although not normally serious, untreated severe dry eye syndrome can cause scarring of the eye's surface. You should therefore visit your Optometrist as soon as possible if you have any of the following symptoms:
• Extreme sensitivity to light
• Extremely red eyes
• Eyes that are very painful
• Deterioration of vision
Lifestyle and environment factors
Lifestyle and environmental factors may initiate or worsen your symptoms. These include:
• Smokey or dusty environments
• Air conditioning/heaters in the home and car
• Prolonged viewing of computer screens
• Contact lens wear
• Over-rinsing with water or saline
• Use of redness-relieving eye drops such as witch hazel
The hormonal changes that occur during the menopause can lead to a reduction in tear production, resulting in dry eye syndrome.
Omega-3 fatty acids have
been shown to reduce tear
evaporation and eye inflammation.
Patients suffering from dry eye syndrome
should increase dietary intake of Omega 3 fatty acids either by using oral supplements, such as flax seed oil, or by eating more oily fish (or both). A good level of daily water intake will also aid hydration.
Artificial tears and lubricants
The term 'artificial tears' is commonly used to describe drops, solutions and liquid gels applied directly into the eye that supplement the tear film and provide additional lubrication. The term 'ocular lubricants' generally refers to more viscous products such as ointments. Your doctor or optometrist may recommend or prescribe artificial tears or an ocular lubricant in addition to addressing lifestyle and environmental factors.
Anti-inflammatory medicines can be used to help reduce the inflammation associated with more severe cases of dry eye syndrome. They are normally prescribed in the form of a cream or ointment. Specialist oral medications are sometimes used if products and medicines applied directly into the eyes prove unsuccessful. These oral treatments include tetracycline analogues, cyclosporin and tear secretagogues. Your doctor will provide more information on these if they are needed.
Surgical procedures may be an option if dry eye syndrome doesn't respond to other forms of treatment.
• Punctual occlusion
Small plugs are used to seal the tear ducts, helping tears to pool and thus protect the eyes. Temporary plugs made of silicone are normally used first to see if the operation has a positive effect. This procedure is available at our Highams Park branch. Call now to book an appointment. If this proves sucessful, the tear ducts can be permanently sealed shut, using a laser or electric heating device.
• Salivary gland autotransplantation
In this procedure, some of the glands that produce saliva are removed from the lower lip and grafted into the side of the eyes. The saliva produced acts as a tear-substitute.