Dry eye syndrome also known as Keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS) is a condition where the eyes do not produce enough quality tears and where it does produce the tears, they evaporate too quickly.
Therefore, they cannot effectively keep your eyes moist leading to discomfort and irritation.
For some of us, it is probably news to us of the benefits tears have. Tears are very essential as they are needed to help keep the eyes lubricated.
They also keep the eye surfaces smooth, wash away foreign materials, help to maintain clear vision and protect the eyes from infection.
So, the next time someone tells you your eyes are too watery, be sure to name the benefits of tears to them.
DRY EYE SYNDROME
Dry eyes can be very uncomfortable and can cause a gritty, scratchy, burning or stinging sensation in the eyes.
Dry eyes can either be experienced all the time or sometimes most likely triggered by situations like staring at digital screens – computers, cell phones, tablets etc.
It could also be triggered by air travel, windy or arid environments and waking up after a long sleep.
Dry eye affects millions of people worldwide with prevalence ranging from 2% to 14.2% globally. A systematic review in 2016 estimates dry eye disease prevalence between 5%-50% in various age groups.
While eye dryness affects most people at one point or another in their lives, it increases with age, with prevalence ranging from 2.7% in individuals aged 18 to 34 to 18.6% in those aged 75 and older.
It goes without saying that the rate of eye dryness tends to increase with age.
SYMPTOMS OF DRY EYES
Beyond irritation, some other common signs and symptoms include:
1. Dryness that worsens with activities like computer use
2. Gritty or scratchy sensation like having sand in your eyes
3. Stinging, burning sensations
4. Redness in the eyes or on eyelids
5. Blurred vision that may fluctuate
6. Increased eye sensitivity to smoke, wind, cold air, and bright lights
7. Swelling, itching or infection of the eyelids
8. Excessive tearing/watering as the eyes try to overcompensate
These symptoms may fluctuate in severity over the course of the day, worsening when eyes strain to focus and feeling irritated later in the day as tears evaporate.
The degree and nature of dry eye symptoms go a long way in helping doctors determine appropriate treatments.
COMMON CAUSES AND RISK FACTORS OF DRY EYES
While many risk factors are still being studied and researched. The most common causes and conditions associated with dry eyes include:
1. Age: This is a primary risk factor for dry eyes for reasons such as
- Tear Production/Quality Changes: Studies have shown that tear gland function generally declines with ageing. The composition and stability of the tear film also deteriorate with age affecting lubrication.
- Hormonal Shift: Age triggers a lot of hormonal changes, especially for women around menopause.
- Chronic Illnesses: Conditions like diabetes, arthritis, Parkinson’s etc. which are prevalent in older groups often come with prescription medications that have dry eyes as possible side effects.
- Environment and Lifestyle Factors: Exposure to pollutants over decades causes strain on the eyes making them more sensitive to irritation and moisture loss.
While natural ageing can’t be halted, it is necessary to get timely check-ups and use eye drops more proactively to offset these age-related dry eye triggers better. A healthy lifestyle also provides protective benefits against dry eye syndrome severity.
2. Gender: Various studies estimate that 60-75% of dry eye syndrome cases are women. Some of the reasons this may be the case are as follows:
- Hormonal changes in women can contribute to dry eyes. Post-menopausal women often experience dry eye syndrome due to decreasing estrogen levels.
- Oral Contraceptives: Women taking oral contraceptives may result in dry eye syndrome. Also, the hormones in birth control pills can sometimes interfere with natural tear production and evaporation.
- Pregnancy: This is another hormonal state that can temporarily cause or worsen dry eye symptoms.
- Medical treatments that impact hormones like cancer therapy can also play a role.
Summarily, female hormonal fluctuations and differences as well as the increased disposition for auto-immune dry eye disease link the female gender to higher dry eye prevalence.
3. Medications: Many prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs list dry eye syndrome as a side effect, while others reduce tear production.
Antihistamines for instance can have an anticholinergic effect which reduces tear secretion from tear glands. Other drugs like diuretics, pain medication, and antidepressants may also impact tear function.
Some medications trigger eye inflammation that disrupts tearing. Oral steroids, eye drops etc., can cause an inflammatory response that interferes with tear function.
Also, birth control pills amongst other drugs that influence hormonal balance can impact tearing.
4. Health Conditions: A good number of health conditions can lead to or exacerbate dry eye syndrome by affecting different parts of the tear production system.
Diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis affect tear glands by reducing tear secretion. Environmental conditions can also alter the smoothness of the corneal surface needed for tear distribution.
Diseases like diabetes dry the eyes, while chronic inflammation or infection of glands around the eyes may destroy gland tissue needed for adequate tear volume.
Other diseases like Bell’s palsy, HIV, etc also contribute to the dry eye syndrome.
5. Environmental Factors: Exposure to toxins like smoke or pollution, low humidity and forced hot or cold air from ventilation systems can speed up tear film evaporation. UV light from the sun also makes some people prone to photo conjunctivitis.
6. Activities like staring for long periods without blinking lead to tear film evaporation. This happens frequently during computer use, reading, driving and video game play.
Not lubricating sufficiently with artificial eye drops while wearing contact lenses also contributes.
HABITS THAT CAUSE OR CONTRIBUTE TO DRY EYE SYNDROME
Some of the main habits that can cause or contribute to dry eyes are as follows:
- Staring at digital screens (computers, tablets, phones etc.)
- Wearing contact lenses for an extended period
- Living or working in dry, dusty or windy environments
- Not getting enough quality sleep
- Smoking cigarettes or other tobacco products
- Taking certain medications like birth control pills
- Not drinking enough water or fluids
- Staring at screens in poorly lit rooms
7 ESSENTIAL TIPS FOR PREVENTION OF DRY EYES
Since dry eye syndrome is so prevalent and the root causes are often difficult to control, focusing on prevention strategies proactively is prudent. Some helpful dry eye prevention tips include:
1. Follow the 20-20-20 rule when using screens.
Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break to view something 20 feet away. This reduces eye strain.
In addition to this, blink regularly and consciously while doing visual concentration tasks like computer work.
2. Always Stay hydrated
Stay hydrated by drinking water regularly throughout the day.
3. Lubricate Eyes when dry or irritated
Get in the habit of using artificial tear drops or gels to lubricate eyes whenever they feel dry or irritated.
It is important to use preservative-free eye drops if preservatives tend to irritate the eyes when used long-term.
4. Watch your alcohol intake as well as your caffeine intake.
Alcohol causes dehydration, while caffeine may alter tear production for some people.
5. Go for Checkups
Have annual checkups to diagnose dry eyes early before major surface damage occurs. This allows doctors to rule out other complicating conditions.
6. Eat more natural Eye Lubricant food
Omega-3s help to fight against inflammation. Omega-3s can be gotten by eating more cold-water fatty fish, or by taking fish oil capsules.
7. Use Oil-free products around the face
When washing your face or applying cosmetics, be careful to use oil-free, fragrance-free products that won’t migrate into your eyes.
Implementing these healthy habits, and following them diligently if symptoms manifest can help minimize the occurrence of severely irritating dry eye syndrome.
In summary, dry eye syndrome is a highly prevalent condition with a variety of causes stemming from medication, health conditions, environment and normal ageing processes.
While not curable, the discomfort and visual disturbance of dry eye syndrome can often be effectively managed through diligent daily habits and lifestyle adjustments.
By incorporating these habits and lifestyle modifications into your daily routine, you can effectively manage and prevent dry eye syndrome, leading to improved eye health and overall well-being.
Have you tried to tie and dye? Check out this post to know more.