Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Why, oh why, are my eyes so DRY?

Well everyone, it's fall, and the air is starting to cool. The optimist optometrist isn't going to lie; she gets a little upset when summer is over. But fall is nice too! The cooler weather often can make our eyes more dry, so I thought a post about dry eye might be in order.

But my eyes water all the time, so they can't be dry... right? Wrong! The optimist optometrist wishes she had a dollar for every time she has heard a patient say that. Actually, periods of excess tearing can be a sign of dryness. Other signs of dryness include irritation of the eyes, light sensitivity, fluctuating vision, and a "foreign body sensation" (when it feels like there is something in your eye, like sand or dust).

I'm just a girl...
Women tend to suffer from dry eye more often than men, especially those who are near or past the age of menopause. Also, certain types of inflammatory diseases (such as Rheumatoid Arthritis) have been associated with dry eyes. Smoking can play a role with dry eyes as well, so there's yet another reason for you to kick the habit. You can do it!

What does dry eye look like to the doctor?
When you visit your friendly optometrist and mention that your eyes are irritated, they may check for dryness by using a special dye called fluorescein. The dye is in the form of a drop, and it is yellow. When the doc puts the drop in and looks with a blue light and a cool microscope, the areas that are dry will be visible to us. The pattern of dryness can help us determine a specific treatment plan for you. Sometimes, we may also do a test to check your tear production, called a Schirmer test. You may look a little silly during this test, because we put these little paper strips on the inside of your lower eyelids and leave them there for 5 minutes. Your tears will wet the paper, allowing us to measure your level of tear production.

So, what can I do about it?
Did you have a feeling I was going to recommend a healthy diet as a good place to start? You're right! You're so smart. Having omega-3's in your diet can help. Also, antioxidants and B-vitamins can help to keep your tear film healthy, so make sure they are part of your diet as well.

A good place to start if you're beginning to experience dryness in your eyes is by using artificial tears. There are a number of great artificial tears that can be purchased without prescription at your favorite pharmacy. (And say hello to your friendly pharmacist while you're there! They are nice too. Almost as nice as optometrists. Did I mention I married a pharmacist?) A good place to start is to use the artificial tears every 2-3 hours. Some cases of dry eye may require more frequent lubrication. If your eyes are drying out while you sleep, sometimes it can be helpful to use a gel form of artificial tears before bedtime.

If artificial tears aren't doing the trick, your optometrist or ophthalmologist may recommend prescription eye drops to help increase your tear production. Restasis is a common medication used for this purpose. Your eyecare practitioner can determine if this medicine will benefit you.

Sometimes, if drops and nutrition are not enough, we may sometimes put in punctal plugs to keep your tears from draining out. Each of your eyes has a small hole called a punctum on your top and bottom lid, in the inside corner. You can find yours if you look very closely in the mirror. We cool eye docs can plug your punctum permanently or temporarily using small silicone punctal plugs.

As usual, please remember how important it is to take care of yourself. Fueling your body with the proper nutrients and avoiding environmental toxins can really help to cut down on dry eye symptoms. Dry eye is a very common problem, but we are lucky to be living in a time when there are many excellent treatment options. We are so lucky to be alive and well... keep that in mind, and have a beautiful day!