The disease called “evaporative dry eye” (EDE) can reduce your quality of life, making it difficult to complete even the simplest everyday activities like reading or driving. However, there are various ways to treat your dry eyes and reduce the symptoms so you can restore the life you thought you lost for good.

Dry eyes can be painful and irritating, but you don’t have to face them alone, in fact, you probably aren’t — it’s estimated that around 4.88 million Americans over age 50 have dry eyes.

What Exactly is Dry Eye?

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Like its name suggests, a lack of adequate moisture in one or both eyes results in dry eyes.

Dry eye is a chronic condition that causes the eye to feel scratchy, irritated, and itchy, and sufferers can experience blurred vision, excess watering, redness, and a sensitivity to light. Some who experience an advanced version of the condition may begin to have vision problems due to the damage caused by dry eyes.

It All Comes Down to Tears

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Every time the eyelids close, tears bathe the eye’s surface. These tears serve multiple functions, such as lubricating, smoothing, and clearing the eye, washing away any foreign objects, and reducing the eye’s risk of infection.

Changes in the delicate balance between tear production, tear quality (the balance between all the components of healthy tear) and tear drainage can lead to dry eyes.

Poor Quality Tears

The ideal tear protects the front of the eye while also providing it with a thin layer of nourishment. However, it’s possible for tears to evaporate too quickly or for tears to not spread out evenly enough to be affective. This often occurs when the tear’s core components of water, oil, and mucus are imbalanced, but environmental conditions can cause poor tear quality.

One of the symptoms of dry eye is watery eyes. This sounds contradictory to the definition of dry eye, however, as the eye experiences dryness, it will over-compensate by “reflex tearing.” Unfortunately, this excessive production of tears doesn’t stay on the eye’s surface long enough to fix your eye’s underlying dry eye condition.

Low Tear Production

The technical term for a decrease in tear production is Keratoconjunctivitis. It’s important that the tear covers the eye completely with each blink. Different factors, such as aging, certain medication, and tear gland dysfunction can cause a decrease in tear production.

Why Do I Have Dry Eyes?

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Dry eyes are a common condition within the U.S. that often accompanies aging. While aging is one of the leading causes of dry eyes, the condition can also be a result of the environment in which you live, medications you take, and more.

As Our Bodies Age, So Do Our Eyes

It’s the inevitable reality that, as we age, our bodies undergo a natural aging process. One of the changes that many individuals over the age of 50 experience is decreased tear production due to tear ducts and oil glands working less effectively, meaning there are less tears available to help moisturize the eye.

In addition, as you get older, your chances of having Demodex mites rises. These are microorganisms that live in the oil glands of the tear ducts as well as the follicles and pores along the eye lid. Demodex has been linked with decreased tear quality, causing dry eyes.

Our Eyes Don’t Like the Mountain Air

Tear evaporation can also be caused by the air quality and conditions where you live. Living in dry climates or exposing your eyes to high levels of wind and smoke can all cause tear evaporation that leads to dry eyes.

At Vision Care Specialists, our 6 Denver-area locations, in a dry, high-altitude region, means that we see many patients who suffer from high altitude dry eye syndrome. There are options to treat the condition that don’t call for drastic actions, such as uprooting your life to move to an area with a more eye-friendly climate.

Your Sleeping Medications May Be
Causing Your Dry Eyes

Not all cases of dry eye occur naturally with age — medication can also cause symptoms of dry eye. It’s also possible that preexisting medical conditions of the patient are the cause of dry eye.

If you believe one of your medications may be contributing to your dry eyes, your doctor may be able to help you switch to a medication not linked to dry eye symptoms. It’s important to consult a doctor before altering any of your treatment.

Dry eyes can be the result of treating other conditions with medications or surgical procedures, such as:

  • Sleeping pills
  • Antihistamines (allergy medications)
  • Anxiety medications
  • High blood pressure medications
  • Oral contraceptives and other hormone-altering medication
  • Long-term use of contacts
  • Refractive eye surgeries (LASIK)

Dry eyes can be the result of treating other conditions with medications or surgical procedures, such as:

  • Diabetes
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Lupus
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Scleroderma
  • Blepharitis

Dry Eye Affects Women More Than Men

Of the nearly five million Americans with dry eye, over three million are women. Women have a higher chance of developing dry eye than men due to menopause and natural hormonal changes. The hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy and after menopause, as well as using oral contraceptives, can all lead to dry eye. In addition, women that are taking hormone replacements, such as estrogen and progesterone, have a 30 percent increased risk of developing the condition.

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How to Protect Yourself from Dry Eye Symptoms

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Suffering from dry eye can be frustrating and difficult, but there are many options to treat your dry eyes to decrease their uncomfortable symptoms. Taking all of your treatment options into consideration is important, but even more important is scheduling a comprehensive eye examination. Speaking with a doctor can help you put in place a safe treatment plan specific to your needs.

What Are My Treatment Options?

Treating dry eye often includes adding a solution to the eye in order to replace insufficient tear production. You can accomplish this though using artificial tears, ointments, or gels that can usually be purchased over the counter.

If treating your eyes with artificial tears isn’t affective, there are other options to consider. Your doctor might recommend blocking your tear duct with a small, removable plug. This stops tears from draining and allows moisture to remain on the eye longer. Your doctor may also suggest increasing your omega-3 fatty acids intake.

Your eye doctor can also prescribe special eye drops that increase tear production. If inflammation around the eye is contributing to an individual’s dry eyes, solutions such as lid massages or compresses may be recommended.

Can I Treat Dry Eyes On My Own?

Reducing the symptoms of dry eyes with self-care is possible, however, you should still consult a doctor in order to learn the best practices for your specific health needs.

Increasing the humidity in your workplace and home with the use of a dehumidifier can help alleviate eye dryness. Along these same lines, staying hydrated by drinking a proper amount of water will help your eyes as well as your overall health.

It’s also important to blink regularly throughout the day, especially when staring at the back-lit screens of electronics, such as televisions and computers, for long periods of time. You open your eyes wider as you look up, therefore, lowering your computer screen to below eye-level may help retain some of your eyes’ moisture. Make sure you are taking breaks during the day and briefly close your eyes.

Wearing wraparound sunglasses and glasses can help reduce your eyes’ exposure to the elements. Also, reducing or eliminating your direct exposure to cigarette smoke, air conditioners, and hair dryers can be very beneficial to your eye moisture and health.

It’s Time to End Dry Eye Suffering

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Dry eyes can be painful, irritating, and, if serious enough, can impair your vision and lower your quality of life. If you believe you’re one of the nearly five million Americans who suffers from dry eyes, it’s important to speak with one of our Colorado eye care professionals. Our six area locations are staffed with doctors who are experienced in diagnosing and successfully treating patients who are tired of suffering from dry eyes.