Dry eye relief: The causes, symptoms & treatment


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After you read this, we promise: "There won’t be a dry eye in the house." And no, this story is not a tearjerker. But if you’re one of millions who suffer from dry eye, you know how irritating it can be. Fortunately, there is no need to suffer, because there are many ways — medical and natural — to combat the dryness. Just remember to always consult a doctor if you find yourself suffering from dry eye.


The cause

Your eyes need a constant flow of tears for moisture and lubrication, which helps maintain vision and comfort, says WebMD. So what exactly are tears? They are a combination of water, for moisture; oils, for lubrication; mucus, for even spreading; and antibodies and special proteins, for resistance to infection. These components are secreted by glands around the eye, and dry eye occurs when there is an imbalance in this tear system.

In addition to this imbalance, other situations that dry out the tear film can cause dry eye. You can thank the dry air from air conditioning, heat, cigarette smoke and other environmental conditions for that. Another major cause of dry eye is working at a computer all day. “When people are using the computer, they have a reduced blink rate,” said Dr. Trattler. “Making the effort to blink more often … may help you.”

Other conditions that can cause dry eyes are aging; the ride effects of certain drugs, such as antihistamines and birth control pills; diseases that affect the ability to make tears, such as Sjogren's syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis and collagen vascular diseases; and structural problems with the eyelids that don't allow them to close properly.  


The symptoms

A person with dry eyes can suffer from any of the following: pain, light sensitivity, a gritty sensation, a feeling of a foreign body or sand in the eye, itching, redness, difficulty wearing contact lenses or blurry vision. “Dry eye impacts the visual system, causing blurry and fluctuating vision,” said Dr. William Trattler, a board-certified ophthalmologist and specialist in dry eyes on All About Vision.

In a strange twist, someone with dry eye can actually have excess tears running down his or her cheeks. The reason: When the eye isn't getting enough lubrication, it sends a distress signal through the nervous system for more, according to WebMD. The eye can then flood with tears to compensate, but since these tears are mostly water, they won’t lubricate the way normal tears do. While they’ll wash debris away, they won’t coat the eye surface properly.

And what happens if you don’t treat dry eye? “Chronic dry eye over time can be progressive and can lead to fluctuating vision and loss of quality of vision. For severe chronic dry eye, treatment is important to avoid visual problems down the road,” said Dr. Trattler.  


The treatment

Unfortunately, there is no cure, says WebMD, but you can treat dry eye. Go ahead and make an appointment with an eye care specialist. But in the meantime, here are some of treatments available to combat the problem.

Artificial teardrops and ointments: Artificial teardrops are available over the counter. You may have to try a few different drops to find one that’s effective. If you have chronic dry eye, use the drops even when your eyes feel fine. If you find that your eyes dry out while you sleep, you can use a thicker lubricant at night.

Temporary punctal occlusion: This involves closing the ducts that drain tears out of the eye. This can be done temporarily with a plug that can be removed or will dissolve over a few days, which is inserted into the tear drain of the lower eyelid to determine whether permanent plugs can provide an adequate supply of tears.

Permanent punctal occlusion: If temporary plugging works, then longer-lasting plugs can be used. These plugs can also be removed.

Restasis: This is an FDA-approved prescription eye drop for chronic dry eye that helps your eyes increase their own tear production with continued use.

Other medications: This includes topical steroids.

Surgery: The ducts that drain tears into the nose can be permanently closed to allow more tears to remain around the eye.  


Natural treatments

Washing your eyelids: Doing this helps control inflammation, says the Mayo Clinic. 
Apply a warm washcloth to your eyes for five minutes. Gently rub the washcloth over your lids to loosen debris.

Fatty acids: Such fatty acids as omega-3 and omega-6 can help. These fatty acids, found in fish and vegetable oils, are thought to reduce inflammation in the body, says the Mayo Clinic. Although more studies are needed to test if these fatty acids can help reduce eye inflammation, it can’t hurt. Discuss the benefits and risks with your doctor. Omega-3 fatty acids are available in foods and in supplements. Or use foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids, including palm oil, soybean oil, flaxseed oil, ground flaxseed, walnuts, salmon, tuna, mackerel and sardines.

Caffeine: According to the Mayo Clinic, a recent study found that tear volume increased within hours after consuming caffeine. There's no specific research on caffeine and dry eyes, but luckily there are other health benefits to drinking coffee, even if future studies find no correlation between caffeine and dry eye relief.