There are a variety of factors that can contribute to chronic eye dryness, but the root cause is chronic inflammation in the tear ducts and glands. This inflammation can upset the natural moisture balance in the eyes, resulting in irritation and discomfort. At ICT Eye in Wichita, KS, we offer several dry eye treatment options and also have some advice for people suffering from this uncomfortable condition.
Identifying the Causes of Chronic Eye Dryness
We know that inflammation in the tear ducts and glands causes a disruption in tear production, but is there anything we can do to slow down this inflammation in the first place? This depends on what is causing the inflammation. Sometimes it is simply part of the natural aging process, but other times it is caused by a specific health condition, by certain medications, or even by the environment that we live in. The most common causes of decreased tear production include:
- Medical conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, scleroderma, or a thyroid disorder
- Allergic eye disease or chronic environmental allergies
- Gland blockages such as Meibomian Gland Dysfunction
- Vitamin A deficiency
- Certain medications such as birth control, antihistamines, decongestants, or blood pressure pills
- Recent laser eye surgery
- Hormone imbalance or menopause
- Frequent use of contact lenses
- Too much computer/screen time
Dry Eye Caused by External Factors
People who live in an extremely dry climate, or who have certain types of central heating or air conditioning systems that significantly reduce humidity levels in the home, can be more prone to dry eye. Harsh winter conditions or high altitudes can also be contributing factors. Living in these types of environments will not necessarily cause dry eye in the first place, but it will certainly exacerbate the problem. Running a humidifier in your home or office can be helpful.
Contact lens use is another common external factor that can dry out the eyes. Not wearing contacts for more than 8 hours at a time, and wearing glasses at least a couple of days per week, can help to mitigate this effect. If you must wear contacts daily, using lubricating eye drops is a must. Be sure to get eye drops from a licensed ophthalmologist, because not all over-the-counter eye drops are effective for chronic dry eye.
Dry Eyes Caused by Computer Use
The reason our eyes often feel irritated after spending hours on a computer or smartphone is that this activity dries out the eyes. When staring at a screen, we tend to blink less frequently, leading to faster tear evaporation. Taking a few moments to close the eyes and allow the moisture barrier to rebuild can make a big difference.
The Natural Aging Process
Dry eye syndrome can happen to anyone at any age, but it does become more common after age 45. Women going through menopause are at an even higher risk, as hormone imbalance can be a contributing factor for eye dryness. If you are approaching middle age and noticing the early signs of eye discomfort, being proactive about finding an effective dry eye treatment is a good idea.
Smoking and overconsumption of alcohol can both contribute to eye dryness. Alcohol is of course very dehydrating, but it can also indirectly contribute to eye problems through setting the groundwork for a variety of diseases and chronic conditions. As for smoking, it not only dries out the eyes but is also linked to several eye diseases such as cataracts, macular degeneration, and uveitis.
Chronic Health Conditions
Dry eyes can be a side effect of serious chronic conditions such as lupus, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, environmental allergies, Sjogren’s syndrome, scleroderma, and certain thyroid-related conditions. Dryness caused by these conditions can be more severe than that caused by (for example) computer use. If you have dry eyes caused by a health condition, you will likely need more than just eye drops to manage your symptoms.
Meibomian Gland Dysfunction (MGD)
The meibomian glands produce oils that lubricate the eyes – when these glands are malfunctioning, these vital oils are not excreted and tears evaporate too quickly. The oils produced by the meibomian glands are essential to healthy eye function – without them, dryness, pain, and inflammation will soon follow. The most effective treatment for this condition is iLux®, which we will discuss further below.
Medication Side Effects
Many prescription and over-the-counter drugs increase the risk of dry eye. The most common offenders tend to be antihistamines, cold medications, antidepressants, birth control pills, and certain blood pressure prescriptions such as beta-blockers and diuretics. If you are taking any of these medications, speaking to an ophthalmologist about dry eye treatment options will be very helpful.
This is a rarer cause of dry eyes, but eyelids that do not close all the way when a person is blinking or sleeping can cause severe eye dryness. Incomplete closure of the eyelids is a condition called Lagophthalmos, which can lead to a corneal ulcer if left untreated.
Laser Eye Surgery
The good news about dry eyes caused by laser eye surgery is that it is almost always temporary. While it can be quite bothersome for several weeks following the procedure, it will normally resolve itself with diligent eye drop use. Your ophthalmologist will recommend a dry eye treatment that can be used on a short-term basis.
Finding a Dry Eye Treatment That Works
Whatever the cause of your dry eyes might be, it can normally be managed with some simple treatments and lifestyle changes. Artificial teardrops and ointments prescribed by a licensed ophthalmologist are a good place to start, but there are also some medically supervised treatment options that can be helpful if your condition is chronic and particularly bothersome.
If you are experiencing pain, burning, itching, blurred vision, redness, or a gritty sensation in the eyes, it is important to seek medical help as soon as possible. Finding a dry eye treatment plan that works for you can keep your condition from getting progressively worse.
Using iLux® Treatment for Gland Problems
If you have a more complex dry eye problem such as Meibomian Gland Dysfunction (MGD), eye drops will not be the solution. In this case, we recommend medically supervised treatment using iLux®, which is an FDA-approved device that removes blockages from these glands. Using carefully applied heat and compression to the eye area, this device treats MGD quickly and effectively without surgery.
Cliradex wipes are moist towelettes with moisturizing and anti-inflammatory properties. They are also anti-microbial and effective at treating a variety of eye health issues. Talk to your ophthalmologist to find out if these wipes would be helpful for your particular eye condition.
Using the Right Eye Drops
There are countless brands of eye drops on the market but not all of them are created equal. Some of them, in fact, might even make your condition worse. Before heading to the pharmacy, talk to a board certified Ophthalmologist who can examine your eyes and recommend the best type of drops or other topical product for your particular case.
We’ve already talked about limiting exposure to smoke and alcohol, but there are other small lifestyle changes you can make to improve your eye health. Drinking plenty of water and eating a healthy diet that includes omega 3 fatty acids (either in fish or supplement form) is a good place to start. Since dry eyes can also be caused by a vitamin A deficiency, making sure this important vitamin is included in your diet is a must.
Wearing sunglasses not just in the sun, but also when it’s windy, is a great lifelong practice to protect your eyes. We know that UV light is damaging to the eyes, but wind can also be dangerous. It can be extremely drying, and can have the added risk of blowing dust and debris into the eyes.
A Word About Makeup
Hypoallergenic eye makeup is usually not problematic, but we need to be aware that putting on too much mascara or eyeliner can actually block the glands that make tears. So, use a light touch when applying eye makeup.
Finding the Best Ophthalmologist in Kansas
If you are suffering from dryness and discomfort associated with dry eye syndrome, contact us today at ICT Eye in Wichita, KS. We would be pleased to set up an initial appointment to examine your eyes and determine what the best course of treatment would be.