Dry Eye Disease is a growing problem for many Americans. With the increase of age, use of electronic devices, certain medicines, even air conditioning, the symptoms of dry eye are being noticed more severely and in younger populations. Many people are therefore left looking for help. The good news is that many things can be done to help! It all starts with arming yourself with the information needed to recognize the symptoms of dry eyes. From there you can work together with your doctor to come up with a treatment plan and get your eyes feeling as good as new.
What is Dry Eye Disease?
Dry Eye Disease is what’s known as a “multifactorial disease”. This means that there are actually multiple reasons why someone will begin to feel dry eyes. They can be things like contact lens wear, increased time on electronic devices, overexposure of the eyes to air, medications, and diseases affecting the entire body. Recognizing that you do not need to “just live with this” is the reason to pull in a doctor skilled at treating Dry Eye Disease.
How do I know if I have Dry Eye Disease?
Most people will have symptoms of their dry eye. These symptoms may include:
- Gritty, “sand-in-the-eyes” sensation
- Blurry vision
Blurry vision is a symptom that people don’t always associate with dry eye, but it is actually a very common complaint. Before light even enters the eye it must go through a layer of liquid known as the “tear film”. The tear film is made up of water, oil, and mucus all coming together to keep the eye moist and healthy. If the tear film is missing any of those ingredients then the whole mixture can fall apart. With a bad tear film comes bad vision. If you feel like sometimes your vision fluctuates between clear and blurry, even within blinks, dry eye may very well be the culprit.
Watering eyes seems a little weird as well. But when the eyes are dry, the body senses this and sends the “crying tears” to try and fix the problem. This overreaction by the body results in those tears just rolling off the cheek.
It is important to know that there are some people who also have dry eyes but don’t necessarily have any of these symptoms. Many times, people with no symptoms may be having difficulty with their contact lenses and not know why. So they go to their eye doctor and the doctor changes the contact lens. Next year, the same story again and again. The problem was never the contact lenses. The problem was dry eyes causing the contact lenses to not stay wet. When Dry Eye Disease is caught early, there are treatments to prevent ever feeling all the terrible sensations that come along with Dry Eye Disease.
What can I do about my dry eyes?
There are many remedies that can be tried at home for dry eyes. A common one is artificial tears. They help to supplement your natural tears and make the eyes feel more comfortable. They can be found over-the-counter and in a variety of formulas. It is important to note that not all eye drops are alike. Artificial tears should not have any medication in them that helps with redness, so-called “get-the-red-out drops”. These can oftentimes make the eyes even drier because they contain a type of decongestant that shrinks the red blood vessels! Then when their eyes get more dry and red, people use more of the drop and so on.
The ideal options will specify “artificial tear” or “lubricating drop” and can be used throughout the day. The problem with artificial teardrops is that they really work similarly to a band-aid in that they won’t actually solve the reason you have dry eyes. They feel good for five minutes and they are gone. The best thing you can do is bring up your dry eyes to your doctor. If we don’t know how much your eyes burn, we can’t help you feel better! Good examples of things to tell your doctor:
- a history of when it started
- what you’ve tried to use to fix it
- when you notice the dryness becomes worse
What can my doctor do about my dry eyes?
In offices that have a particular interest in managing dry eyes, there are now much more targeted options to create a custom-tailored treatment plan. The first step is proper diagnosis. Optometrists now have incredible imaging techniques and clinical tests to determine the source of Dry Eye Disease. Once the source is found, a treatment plan is next.
At Optique, we work together to determine the best combination of home therapies with state-of-the-art in-office treatments for your particular dry eye situation. Home therapies often include a regimen consisting of the following:
- Daily compresses with a heated mask
- Lid cleaning solutions
- Vitamins, especially healthy Omega-3s
- High-quality artificial tears (NOT Visine!)
There are also prescription medications that will help with the swelling associated with your dry eyes. These medications may either be prescribed for use over a short period of time or as a more long-term solution to Dry Eye Disease. As with any medication, there are side effects that are sometimes experienced. Any current medications or allergies should be discussed with your doctor before starting any new prescription.
A more advanced and individualized form of artificial tears, we often prefer a tear replacement that bolsters the natural healing powers of your body. Serum tears are eye drops that are derived from a surprising source; the serum of your own blood! This can be made by a laboratory that carefully separates all of the pro-healing molecules found steadily streaming through the body and concentrating them into a safe, comfortable, and effective eye drop. By doing this, we can avoid any extra ingredients that are often needed to keep pharmaceutical drops stable in the months that it can take to go from mass production to your home. Science sure is amazing!
A major part of treating Dry Eye Disease is in-office procedures. These are designed to take your treatment to the next level and fix the things that just can’t be done at home on your own. Think of similar to the dentist; they have you brush and floss (hopefully) daily and then you return to the office to have them clean the teeth every so often. With dry eyes, the concept is the same. You maintain your eyes’ health with the home therapies prescribed for you and then come into the office to get them a regular tune-up and deep cleaning.
Everyone’s regimen is tailored to their individual needs, but the following are a few of the techniques we use:
Blepharoexfoliation – Careful cleaning of the eyelashes and eyelids of any old debris and bacteria that might be hanging out causing inflammation and irritation. This process leaves your eyelids feeling fresh and clean. We use a special instrument that is only available in the doctor’s office, that way you know that trained professionals are treating you in a safe environment.
Manual Gland Expression - A heated cleaning of the meibomian glands, which are where your tears get the ever-important oil layer. By removing old solid oil from those glands we make sure that you can then naturally produce your own normal liquid oil.
Electronic Gland Expression – A state-of-the-art specialized heating device is custom fit and applied directly to the eyelids. This provides more targeted heating of the meibomian glands.
By doing these procedures regularly, our goal is to get your eyes feeling happy and healthy.
Hopefully, this has provided you with the knowledge needed to start caring for your dry eyes. At Optique, we love using our expertise and state-of-the-art equipment to help you tackle this condition and get you feeling normal again.