In our increasingly indoor and temperature regulated lives, dry eyes are becoming a problem for many. This uncomfortable condition is caused when eyes don’t make enough tears or the tears evaporate too quickly. This then leads to eyes drying out quickly and becoming red, swollen and irritated. For most sufferers this remains a mild issue, causing discomfort but not threatening eye health. For others it can lead to painful episodes were vision is blurred, the eye lids become stuck together after sleep and the burning and gritty sensation becomes unbearable. You are more likely to suffer dry eye syndrome if you are female and your risk increases as you get older too.
There can be a number of factors which set off dry eye syndrome and in many cases there won’t be one root cause but instead a number of factors which together result in the itchy, dryness.
Common culprits include:
Climate : hot and windy environments make it harder for the eyes to stay moist.
Medication: some medications can cause dry eyes and this needs to be ruled out before treatment. They include some antihistamines, antidepressants, the contraceptive pill, diuretics and also beta-blockers.
Hormonal changes: Around the time of the menopause some women find they begin developing dry eye syndrome when previously they were fine. Pregnancy can also cause the issue to flare up.
Contact lenses: if you use contacts daily you are at risk of developing dry eye syndrome. This can be even worse if you don’t change your lenses every day.
Medical conditions: some medical problems have dry eyes as a symptom so it’s important you check in with your optician and/or doctor before trying to treat the condition yourself.
Office life and our eyes are certainly not the best of friends. There are numerous reasons why dry eyes could be caused by an office environment. Firstly the fact the air tends to be dry, air-conditioning, desk fans and radiators all leave the air incredibly dry. Also the way our eyes work when they are looking at a screen leaves them open to developing the condition as there is disruption to the eye’s lipid layer from this airflow. The fact we don’t blink as much when we are reading on a screen also means the eye surface will dry out too. Reducing eye strain, by making sure your screen is at the correct height and making sure you take regular screen breaks every hour, is important as it gives your eyes a chance to relax and refresh.
Finding out which of the causes is creating your dry eye problem is an important part of the cure. First rule out a medical cause, whether it be from medication you are taking or an underlying problem. Then avoid dry, dusty, smoky environments and think about using a humidifier or air filter to help purify but not dry out the air around you.
Make sure you protect your eyes when they are in the sun with sunglasses. It can be helpful to increase your intake of omega-3, ideally through a high grade supplement so you know you are getting a full dose.
If you are a contact lens wearer then it may be worth trying a period with no lenses in and just glasses, you can also try specialised contact lenses which are designed to prevent dry eyes. In some cases your optician may recommend using moisture chamber spectacles. These wrap around your eyes like goggles, helping to retain moisture and protecting your eyes from irritants.
Did you know that although eyeliner and mascara sits on top of the eye, it can cause you the glands in the eyelids to become blocked and this can lead to inflammation around the delicate eye area?
Try not wearing eye make up for a bit to see if that helps. You should also increase your attention to eye hygiene. This should be done daily, once or twice a day by using a clean, warm compress on the shut eyes to encourage the glands around your eyes to make more oil. This can be a flannel soak in boiled then cooled water, or a specialist heat pad which you can microwave. Then gently massage your eyelids and finally clean away and debris from dust or bacteria which may have accumulated around the rims. Ask a pharmacist about ready-made eye cleaning solutions or make your own by adding a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda to cooled, boiled water. Be extremely careful if you do make your own though, it’s probably best to invest in quality or better yet – prescribed eye drops. And, finally, when your eyes are dry and itchy, try to keep you hands out of them – no matter how tempting it is to rub – and make sure you only ever touch them with freshly washed hands.