If you’ve had good vision but now notice slight changes, like feeling “sand” in your eyes, light sensitivity, burning or itching, blurred vision or your eyes watering, you may have a common condition called “dry eye.”
It happens for a number of reasons to people of all ages, according to Brad Christopherson, a Marshfield Clinic Health System optometrist, and there are things to know about the condition and tips you can consider to help your eyes feel better.
Your body makes moisture for your eyes in the form of tears, Christopherson explained. When your eyes don’t produce enough of them or they’re low quality it could lead to dry eye and inflammation with potential for eye surface damage.
Moisture is key to healthy eyes, he said. Moisture helps eyes work well, keeps them comfortable, soothes and protects them. Each time you blink tears wash over the eyes. Tears then drain into the eyelids’ corners to the back of the nose.
Reasons for dry eye can include:
- Tear glands not making as many tears.
- Sagging eyelids that break a seal against the eyeball that helps keep in moisture.
- Autoimmune disorders affecting your ability to make tears, like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.
- Cataract surgery and LASIK or PRK surgery side effects.
- Excessive time spent on a computer, cell phone or reading.
Other related issues can include:
Evaporative dry eye, when tears don’t have enough oil and then evaporate before eyes get enough moisture. This happens when glands are blocked. Treatment is warm washcloths and lid scrubs to clear away dead skin, oil and bacteria that build up and plug the glands.
Tear duct infection, when a tear duct gets blocked and bacteria gets in that area. It can happen at any age, even in infants. Symptoms are pain, redness, swelling, too many tears, discharge from your eye and fever. Antibiotics are the most common treatment, though minor surgery may be needed.
Medications can cause dry eye symptoms, too. Read labels and talk with your health care provider about your medications and how they can affect your eyes. Also, drugs like antihistamines, beta-blockers and some antidepressants can dry out your eyes.
You can make your eyes feel better. Christopherson recommends:
- Using artificial tears in drop or ointment form.
- Including flax oil in your diet.
- Staying away from eye irritants like wind, smoke, hair dryers, heat during winter and air conditioning in warmer months.
- Using a humidifier at home.
- Cutting screen time by taking breaks from your computer, cellphone, TV and other electronic devices.
- If you’re a swimmer or skier, wear protective eyewear like swim or ski goggles.
If you still experience dry eye problems or symptoms, Christopherson recommends seeing your eye care professional who may prescribe eye drops that can increase tear production and decrease inflammation causing dryness. Also, he explained, there are procedures that may help alleviate dry eyes.