Dry eye is a common condition that is experienced by very many people. It can vary from as little as mild dry eye with no visual effects to a severe form of keratoconjunctivitis sicca that can cause blurring of vision and occasionally blindness. However, the vast majority of cases of dry eye are not serious and can be managed or self treated by simple means.
Symptoms usually described by patients are grittiness, stinging or discomfort of the eyes. These symptoms occur or get worse in drier situations such as warm kitchens, centrally heated rooms, poorly controlled air conditioning, heated cars, airline flights, very dry weather and in fact any situation that reduces the humidity of the surrounding air.
Sufferers should try and control their environment whenever this is feasible. For example if you are baking a cake in the kitchen you could consider boiling some water in a pot to allow steam to permeate the room thereby increasing the humidity of the air. Symptoms of dry eye can sometimes develop when individuals are reading, working on a computer or watching the television. The reason this occurs is that concentration often reduces the blink rate thereby causing the symptoms of dry eye. It is helpful to blink more frequently if you can develop this habit. Youngsters playing computer games for a prolonged period often end up with red eyes from the dryness caused by reduced blinking while concentrating. They never seem get red eyes get while doing their homework.
If simple measures do not help your symptoms then you may have to resort to the use of lubricating eye drops in certain situations. There are many companies manufacturing these drops and your pharmacist will tell you of the more popular brands.
Dry eye is also sometimes associated with certain medical conditions and can be the initial presenting symptom occasionally. If you find yourself using lubricating eye drops at an increasing rate then you should seek a medical opinion from your GP or eye doctor. Dry eye can also be associated with other eye conditions such as meibomitis and blepharitis (both eyelid conditions) and advice from your eye doctor on the treatment of these conditions is advisable.
More severe cases of dry eye are difficult to control but there are certain treatments that can be recommended by your eye doctor such as a strict lubricating regime, conjunctival inserts, punctal plugs, punctal surgery and lid surgery where indicated.
It is my experience that most patients with dry eyes do not use enough lubricating eye drops. Sometimes it is a good idea to use eye drops very frequently for example every 15 minutes while watching the television, working on your computer or reading. Make sure you use preservative free eye drops when instilling drops very frequently.
Dr Martin G Treacy (MCRN 009221), Medical Director, Medical Optics.