If you wake up in the morning feeling like your eyes have spent the night in the desert, or your eyes are itchy, dry, red and irritated all day long, you may have dry eye syndrome (DES).
DES is super-common, yet many people either ignore it or put up with the condition, not realizing that there are steps they can take to lessen their dry eye symptoms in conjunction with treatment from their optometrist.
Left untreated, moderate to severe cases of dry eye syndrome can impact your quality of life and even damage your vision.
At Parkland Eye & Vision in Tacoma we diagnose and treat DES, so contact us today to schedule a dry eye exam. In the meantime, here are some tips to manage your dry eye symptoms.
What Causes Dry Eyes?
Dry eyes result from not having enough tears, or tears that can’t adequately hydrate the eyes.
In most cases, DES is caused by a malfunction of the meibomian glands, located at the edges of the eyelids. If the glands become blocked, the lipid part of the tears has a hard time entering the tear film, the moist layer of tears that hydrate the eyes. If there isn’t enough oil in the tears, they can evaporate too quickly, drying out the eyes.
Dry eye syndrome can also be caused — or worsened — by environmental factors like arid weather, wind, air conditioning and heating, and even the amount of time you spend looking at a digital device. Other cases of dry eye are caused by certain medications, some medical conditions or the natural aging process.
It’s important to deal with DES quickly because, over time, it can cause chronic irritation and pain, and even corneal ulcers that result in permanent vision loss.
1. Limit Your Screen Time
Did you know that people blink much less often when looking at a computer, a cell phone, or even a TV screen? It’s true! It’s also a problem, since blinking is the way our eyes spread moisture around the tear film. The less we blink, the drier our eyes become.
The obvious solution is spending considerably less time staring at a screen, but that’s easier said than done. If you or your children must spend time on digital devices, make a conscious effort to blink more often and to take frequent breaks to rest your eyes.
2. Eat Healthy and Hydrate
The organs of your body need moisture to function, and your eyes are no exception. How much fluid you need daily is highly dependent on your body and lifestyle. The more you exert yourself physically, whether doing errands, running or cycling, the more fluids you should be consuming.
If you find it hard to drink several glasses of water a day, add some lemon juice for flavor and to stimulate saliva production, or make yourself a smoothie with your favorite fruits or vegetables.
In addition to fruits and vegetables, consume nuts, legumes, whole grains and lean proteins. Fatty fish is packed with omega 3 fatty acids, which can help keep your eyes hydrated.
3. Control Your Environment
If you work indoors, chances are your workplace is heated in the winter and air conditioned in the summer. While heating and cooling systems make life bearable, they also dry out the air.
The best way to prevent dry eyes indoors is to add moisture to the air with a humidifier, which should be routinely cleaned to prevent the growth of bacteria or mold.
When outdoors, consider wearing wraparound sunglasses, as they can help prevent dry air and wind from affecting your tear film.
We also recommend you place a warm compress on your closed eyelids for a few minutes to soothe your eyes.
Schedule an Eye Exam with Your Eye Doctor!
As helpful as these tips may be, they’re not a substitute for seeing your eye doctor, who can determine the underlying cause of your dry, sore, gritty eyes and prescribe the best treatment to keep your eyes healthy.
How do you test for dry eye?
First, your eye doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms and whether you have any medical conditions (such as an autoimmune disease) or are taking any medications (such as allergy medication) that could be causing or worsening your symptoms. For the most common dry eye test, called the Schirmer’s test, your eye doctor will place a tiny piece of paper over your lower eyelid to check the amount of moisture your tear glands are producing.
Can I wear contact lenses with dry eyes?
Wearing standard contact lenses when you have dry eyes can be challenging and highly uncomfortable. Ask your eye doctor about the best contact lenses to wear if you have dry eye syndrome. The best thing you can do is to treat the underlying cause of your dry eyes, as it may make it possible for you to comfortably wear standard contacts again!