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Coping With Dry Eyes

Have you seen that commercial with the dry, red and watery eye? It's quite unpleasant but also reminds me of the countless days I have looked at my own eyes only to see a pair of tired, red and inflamed peepers looking back at me. Dry eyes is actually a relatively common condition, and one that may results from various causes not simply fatigue.

Dry Eye Syndrome

There is actually a condition doctors refer to as "dry eye syndrome" that occurs when our eyes are chronically dry. Signs and symptoms may include:
  • Persistent dryness of the eye
  • Inflammation and redness of the eye
  • Burning of the eyes
  • Foreign body sensation

Dry eye syndrome occurs when our eyes do not produce sufficient tears. This can result in excessive wear and tear on your eyes. Your doctor can diagnose this condition using a small piece of filter paper placed at the outer corner of the eye. This test, called the Schimer test and helps measure the amount of fluid produced by the eye.

Causes of Dry Eyes

People may develop dry eye for various reasons. The more common reasons include chronic irritation or inadequate production of tears. Tears are important for keeping debris out of the eye and for neutralizing harmful bacteria that might otherwise affect our eyes.

Patients with dry eye syndrome may not produce enough tears because of the aging process or as a result of certain mediations. More common medication culprits for producing dry eye syndrome include use of antidepressants, certain medications to control Parkinson's disease, use of hormones including birth control pills, use of certain antihistamines and other similar products. Some people (myself included) develop dry eyes because they live in an overly dry climate. Dusty or windy climates may also contribute to dry eye syndrome.

Some people will also develop dry eye syndrome resulting from a chronic illness including lupus, sjogren's syndrome or rheumatoid arthritis. Still other causes of dry eye syndrome include:
  • Long term contact lenses wearing, which can result in dry eyes.
  • Failure of the eyelid to close completely, especially while sleeping.
  • Deficiency of the tear producing glands.
  • Meibomian gland dysfunction; blockage of the glands that secrete an oil that keeps our tears from evaporating too quickly.
  • Side effect of LASIK or other eye surgery (See LASIK risks - Dry Eyes).
  • Smoking.
Women are generally more at risk for developing this condition than men.

Treating Dry Eyes

  • See also - Dry Eyes Treatment and Dry Eyes and Menopause.

    Fortunately there are various treatments for dry eyes available on the market. Most of these are quite effective at reducing the symptoms of dry eyes. The most commonly used medication includes a prescription for "artificial tears" that help lubricate the inner and outer surfaces of the eyes. However, lubricant eye drops only offer temporary relief. Some doctors may prescribe Restasis eye drops. It is the only prescription medication available to treat dry eyes and it helps the eyes produce more tears. If your eyes are chronically red you can select eye drops specifically designed to help remove the redness in your eyes. Most of the time these eye drops work only temporarily however, and if you don't determine the cause of your red eyes they are bound to come back.

    Contact lenses wearers should be particularly careful about ensuring they care for their eyes properly. Many may find wearing eyeglasses part of the time may help reduce any signs and symptoms associated with dry eyes. If your dry eyes are related to environmental hazards, don't cry! Use of simple sunglasses can dramatically improve your vision and help reduce the temporary effects of dry eyes. Doctors may also prescribe silicone plugs for patients. These plugs block the tear duct and help prevent your tears from draining from the eye too quickly. Most patients won't even notice these plugs in place when placed correctly.

    Last but not least in some cases your doctor may suggest you revise your diet to help address chronic dry, red or irritated eyes. Certain studies suggest that taking essential fatty acids may help alleviate dry eyes syndrome. You can get essential fatty acids by eating cold water fish including salmon or cod or by increasing your intake of essential fatty acids.

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