By definition, dry eye is a condition caused by “insufficient tear quality or tear quantity.” While the eyes excrete more tears when you are sad, from laughter, or when you get something in your eyes, a healthy eye continually produces just enough tear solution to hydrate the eye’s surface and flush it of environmental particles.
Tears are made from a combination of water and a little oil for lubrication. Without them, the eyes are quickly irritated and need TLC.
Dry Eyes: What Is It And How To Avoid It
If there isn’t enough tear solution or the tears lack the right amount of oil, the eyes feel dry and become irritated. Everyone experiences dry eyes at some point in their life. Sometimes it’s a direct result of a dry, windy day, lack of sleep, or heated/air-conditioned air. For others, dry eyes become a chronic condition, and this leads to long-term problems.
Symptoms Of Dry Eyes
The most common symptom of dry eye is a feeling of dry and gritty eyes. You may blink, and it doesn’t feel like the eye rehydrates. Other symptoms include:
- Light sensitivity
- Feeling like there’s something in your eye(s)
- Stringy mucous in the corner of the eye
- Eyelids that stick or goop together in the morning
- Difficulty wearing contacts (the contacts actually “float” on the surface layer of tears, and without those tears, the dry lens comes into direct contact with the eye, causing further irritation)
- Watery eyes (ironic, but irritation from dry eyes can cause watery eyes, but the lack of oils in the fluid fail to provide the correct balance of moisture and lubrication)
Typically, non-preservative lubricant drops are the first line of defense for occasional dry eye. If, however, dry eyes become more regular or you’re going through more eye drops than usual, it warrants a visit to your optometrist.
Long-Term Effects Of Dry Eyes
There are long-term risks if you don’t treat dry eyes or work to avoid dry eyes altogether. These include:
- Eye infections. Tears help to flush away viral, bacterial, or fungal particles that cause infection. Prolonged exposure to these invaders, combined with the latent irritation from dry eye, increases your risk of getting an eye infection.
- Damage to the eye’s surface. The constant rubbing of your eyes, combined with the lack of moisture, can lead to inflammation of the eye’s surface and scratches on the eye membranes and cornea. You are also at higher risk for developing corneal ulcers and vision loss.
- Constant irritation. Ultimately, continuously irritated eyes diminish the quality of your daily life. It affects everyday activities such as reading or watching shows, making it more challenging to drive and may keep you indoors due to increased light sensitivity.
4 Ways To Reduce Dry Eyes
About half of the adult population is affected by dry eye at some point. While age and medication side effects are common contributing factors, there are ways to avoid dry eye triggers from lifestyle choices or environmental factors.
Focus on healthy indoor humidity levels
Ideal indoor humidity levels for healthy humans and eyes are between 30% and 50%. If you suffer from dry eye, it’s work speaking to your HVAC company about an HVAC system with whole-home humidity functions. If that’s not an option, get a home humidity tester from your local hardware or home improvements store.
Test levels and use portable home humidity/dehumidifying units to keep your home’s interior in that ballpark. If you work in an office, bring the humidity reader there to see what it says. A small humidifying unit – even as simple as a water-based essential oil diffuser without the scented oils – can be used at your desk or workstation to increase humidity in the air around you.
BONUS TIP: Make sure to hydrate. Drink plenty of fluids throughout the day to help reduce dry eyes. A dehydrated body can’t produce tears as efficiently as when it’s hydrated.
Artificial tears can help reduce dry eyes
Artificial tears are a first-line defense for dry eyes. High-end brands make preservative-free eye drops that replicate the liquid/oil balance found in natural tears and provide immediate relief from dry and scratchy irritation. Drops also reduce redness. However, artificial tears are not a long-term solution. If you are dependent on eye drops (i.e., you use them daily), speak to your optometrist.
First, we’ll identify any underlying causes. In some cases, we treat chronic dry eye with mediations that stimulate tear production, like ophthalmic cyclosporine (Restasis). Sometimes we perform a procedure that blocks the tear ducts, slowing down your tear’s ability to drain, which keeps more tears in the eye. These are both last alternatives, and we prefer to find other ways for patients to avoid dry eye or identify a sustainable form of relief.
Minimize screen time and take plenty of screen breaks
Cases of chronic dry eye have exponentially increased since computers took over the world. The more our patients spend time on computers and other screen-based gadgets, the more their eyes are prone to drying out. Focusing the eyes on computer screens or other digital displays has reduces a person’s blink rate by a third to a half, which tends to dry out the eyes.
Also, dry eye irritation increases when people excessively rub their eyes. Even though rubbing feels good, it increases the risk of scratched membranes and corneas. If you experience dry, irritated eyes, read our post Eye Strain Caused by Too Much Screen Time. There, you’ll find information and tips to reduce eye strain caused by screen-related dry eye.
Limit contact lens usage
Try wearing your glasses more while at home and saving contact lenses for when you’re out and about or for special occasions. Wearing contacts increases your risk of dry eye. Wearing your glasses more often may do the trick.
BONUS TIP: Protecting your eyes from sun damage, wind, and debris minimizes the risk of environmentally-related dry eye. Wear wrap-around glasses or safety lenses when you’re outside, doing yard work, or if you work in an environment that poses a risk to your eyes.
We Can Help You And Your Eyes
Do your eyes feel dryer, scratchier, or more irritated than normal? Do you notice your eyes are red and watery after being on the computer or watching TV or screens for long periods? Schedule an appointment with Atlantic Eye Institute, and let’s get you some much-needed relief by learning how to reduce dry eyes and minimize its side effects.