Common Questions About Dry Eye

One of the most common conditions which affects the eyes is dry eye. This is especially apparent in a province like Alberta where the air is dry because of low humidity.

What is dry eye?

Dry eye occurs when the eyes don’t produce enough tears or when tears are produced without proper chemical composition (tears are made up of oil, water, mucous).

Who is affected by dry eye?

People of any age (kids, middle age, and seniors), any gender, any background, and any stage of life can suffer from dry eye.

Does dry eye cause discomfort?

Yes. Not only that, all stages of dry eye, whether acute, chronic, or intermittent, can affect vision, comfort, and activities of daily living (such as playing sports, reading, driving, etc.).

What causes dry eye?

Some common causes of dry eye include:

  • aging (this happens because of the nerves down regulate)
  • hormonal changes (especially in women during and post menopause)
  • environment (low humidity or environmental pollutants)
  • autoimmune disease (such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, inflammatory bowel disease, thyroid disorders, diabetes, etc)
  • heavy usage of digital devices (computers, tablets, phones) – reduced blink rate causes dry eye
  • allergies
  • medications such as antihistamines, diuretics, anti-psychotics, contraceptives and Accutane
  • contact lens wear
  • too much caffeine
  • not enough sleep
  • smoking
  • wind/climate (cold weather)
  • lasik surgery

What are the symptoms of dry eye?

Some symptoms of dry eye include:

  • watery eyes (when the eyes are excessively dry the lacrimal gland over compensates and the eyes start to water)
  • stinging eyes
  • blurry/fluctuating vision
  • burning eyes
  • sandy/gritty or scratchy feeling in eyes
  • red eyes
  • foreign body sensation in eyes
  • eyes feeling heavy
  • eyes sensitive to light

How does an Optometrist diagnose dry eye?

An Optometrist will start by asking questions regarding your diet (what you eat), your habits (how much caffeine/alcohol you take in, how much sleep you have per night).

Additional questions will touch on what medications you are taking, what allergies you may have, and what your home and work environments are like.

With this information an Optometrist will then decide if it’s necessary to do additional testing for dry eye. This is typically done with dye that is instilled in the eye so that it can be observed under a slit lamp (big microscope). Under a slit lamp an Optometrist can evaluate the tear film, the quality of the tears, the pooling of the tears, and your blink rate. All of this information combined will be used to diagnose dry eye.

How is dry eye treated?

Depending on the type of dry eye, treatment methods can vary or even be combined depending on how severe the dry eye is.

Some common treatments include:

  • lubrication drops (artificial tears)
  • ointments (typically only used at night as ointments can blur the vision)
  • medications such as Restasis which can cause the lacrimal gland to produce aqueous solution (a component of natural tears)
  • anti-inflammatory medications such as steroids – steroids can accelerate the healing process
  • punctual plugs (these are inserted in the corner of the eyelids and slow the drainage of tears and keep tears in the eyes longer)
  • modifying environmental factors (such as using a humidifier)
  • improving nutrition (diet is directly related to dry eye) – eating more fatty fish (salmon/tuna/etc) or taking an omega 3 supplement can improve dry eye

What happens if dry eye is not treated?

If dry eye is not treated, the symptoms of dry eye such as red, watery, itchy, burning eyes and/or foreign body sensation, etc will persist or worsen.

Contact lens wear may become impossible because the eyes will be too uncomfortable with the lenses left in (even for an hour or two).

Long term untreated dry eye can damage the corneal tissue of the eye (front of the eye) which can permanently impair vision.

Schedule your eye exam today with one of our Optometrists and have your eyes checked for dry eye.