Dry eye syndrome is one of the most common reasons patients visit their ophthalmologist, with thousands of people affected each year. So, what is dry eye syndrome?
Dry eye syndrome is exactly as it sounds: the eyes become dry. Any disturbance in the tear film, a very thin layer of moisture that lubricates the surface of the eye, results in symptoms of dry eye. These can range from intermittent blurry vision, inability to tolerate contact lenses, gritty sensation, stinging, burning, tearing and eye redness.
There are various causes of dry eye, such as hormonal changes, medications (usually anti-allergy medications and some blood pressure medications), climate changes, inflammation in the body and occasionally overactive nerves that provide sensation to the eyes. The overall quality of the tear film does diminish with age as well.
Initial therapy for dry eye is targeted to over-the-counter artificial tears and warm compresses (run a washcloth under warm water and soak the eyes until wash cloth cools). During the winter, the climate is less humid, so adding a humidifier to the home may help with dry eye.
Certain dietary changes are also important to note. Decreasing foods that promote inflammation in the body (processed foods and trans fats), and increasing your intake of anti-oxidants (fruits and vegetables) can help dry eye. Increasing omega 3 fats found in oily fish (salmon, tuna, trout) can also help reduce dry eye symptoms. Supplements including fish oil or primrose oil have shown great benefit for select patients, but PLEASE consult with your primary care provider before starting any over-the-counter supplements.
It’s important to know that every case of dry eye and every patient is different. Talk with an ophthalmologist to find the right treatment plan for you.
By Dr. Hugh Wright, Roper St. Francis Healthcare Ophthalmologist