Are you dreading the colder months because you usually experience dry eye? Here at Art of Optiks, our doctors understand how painful and uncomfortable dry eye can be, and we’re here to guide you in getting the relief you need. There are many preventative measures and practices individuals can incorporate into their daily regimens to avoid and minimize the chances of dry eye, from providing regular moisture and being aware of air quality to staying hydrated and practicing regular self-care.
What Is Dry Eye?
No matter your age, tears play an essential role in your eyes’ overall health and performance. Rather than just being a display of your emotions, tears keep your eyes moist and allow you to see clearly throughout the day. If your eyes aren’t producing enough tears, whether that be a result of clogged, swollen, or low-producing glands, this is called dry eye. There are two different types of dry eye, evaporative and aqueous. If you’re experiencing the following symptoms, it’s likely time to see your eye care provider for a comprehensive eye exam:
- Blurred vision
- Light sensitivity
Understanding Tear Film
The tear film on your eyes is incredibly important as it is the first defense between your eyes and the harsh, external environment. Your tear film consists of three layers, each serving their own role in optimal eye function:
- Oil Layer: The oil layer of your eye is responsible for maintaining tears on the surface of your eye, so evaporation doesn’t occur. Meibomian glands line the perimeter of your eyelid margin and produce the oil component of your tears. The oil layer helps prevent tears from spilling out of your eye. If you have a good oil quality present in your eyes, the consistency is like olive oil. Many diagnosed with dry eye syndrome have meibomian glands that are clogged, thus producing a hardened, waxy substance that minimizes the free movement of this natural oil component.
- Aqueous Layer: The aqueous layer of your eye creates the watery layer or tears we are all familiar with. This fluid consists of water and proteins secreted through small glands in the conjunctiva and larger lacrimal glands. The aqueous layer produces most of your tear layer, and it’s also responsible for the spreading of your tears.
- Mucous Layer: The mucous layer of your eye takes the role of an anchor by holding the tear film to your eye. This fluid coats your cornea and allows for even distribution of both tear and oil components.
Evaporative Dry Eye
At times, the meibomian glands that line the perimeter of your eyelash margin can become swollen or blocked, which results in your tears not containing enough oil. Your tears need a substantial amount of the oil component, so the rate of evaporation is minimized. Those with evaporative dry eye are likely to experience soreness due to clogged or swollen meibomian glands. But how does this happen to your meibomian glands in the first place? Many factors can cause these glands to become clogged or swollen, from not blinking regularly, continuous screen use, and extended contact lens use to skin conditions, medication side effects, and a recent eye injury or surgery.
Older individuals are usually affected by this type of dry eye, but it can really appear at any age, depending on your lifestyle, health, and many other factors. If you’re diagnosed with evaporative dry eye, the first step is attempting to unclog the meibomian glands with a warm compress or another method. If you have evaporative dry eye, there are numerous symptoms you may experience, from stinging, redness, and light sensitivity to grittiness, eye fatigue, and swollen eyelids.
Aqueous Dry Eye
Your tears protect your eyes and keep them moisturized. If the small glands in the conjunctiva and larger lacrimal gland don’t produce enough tears, your eyes will not be kept adequately moisturized, clean, or healthy. Those diagnosed with aqueous dry eye are likely to experience eye pain, redness, and vision problems. Currently, there are two known causes of aqueous dry eye:
- Age: As you get older, your tear glands may have trouble working, meaning many older individuals can experience aqueous dry eye.
- Sjogren’s syndrome: Some may call Sjogren’s Syndrome an autoimmune disease, which is accurate as this disease targets glands that make tears and spit. This commonly results in dry eye and dry mouth for many individuals diagnosed with Sjogren’s.
Your eyes need to have adequate moisture to function correctly and give you clear vision. If you notice more dryness than usual in your eyes in the colder months, incorporating artificial tears or eye drops into your daily regimen can be beneficial. If you can’t find an over-the-counter artificial tear or eye drop that provides relief, it may be worth contacting your eye care provider for an appointment as they will help you find the best drops for your unique needs. Artificial tears vary in type, and many offer a range of benefits, so having professional guidance will ensure you get sufficient relief.
Monitoring the air quality in your home and car can help you manage dry eye symptoms. In the colder months, you can set up a humidifier, which will help counteract the drying effects of indoor heaters and dry air. Pointing car vents and indoor heaters away from your face when the heat is on will also help prevent your eyes from becoming dry. It’s also encouraged to keep your distance from direct sources of heating or blowing air.
This may surprise you but staying hydrated throughout each day by drinking water or consuming water-rich foods is essential for healthy and properly functioning eyes. Your eyes are already surrounded by fluid, so they’re continuously protected from external debris and dust. Being conscious of how much water you consume each day will help maintain a healthy balance of fluid in your eyes, thus eliminating the likelihood of dry eye.
When spending time outside, especially if you’re working on a project or participating in sports, it’s vital to have proper eye protection. Whether it’s sunglasses or goggles, having adequate eye protection will lower your eyes’ chances of becoming dry from excess wind or other elements and reduce the chances of external debris entering your eyes. Additionally, eye protection will also protect your eyes from prolonged UV exposure, which can be extremely harmful if precautionary measures aren’t taken.
Practicing healthy and regular self-care can be life-changing. If you’ve recently been diagnosed with dry eye or suspect you may be experiencing symptoms, a warm compress can help provide relief by relaxing clogged or swollen glands. However, you must avoid rubbing your eyes, as this can increase irritation and even lead to infection. Aside from being aware of self-care practices, individuals should also be conscious of how much time they spend in front of electronic devices. Extended screen exposure causes you to blink less and suffer from digital eye strain, resulting in dry eye. Explore ways you can minimize screen time or follow the 20/20/20 rule, meaning taking a screen break every 20 minutes by looking 20 feet away for 20 seconds – blinking and all.
What About Contacts?
If you’re a contacts wearer, dry eye can be even more uncomfortable as contact lenses may cause further dryness and irritation. You must utilize contact lens rewetting drops, artificial tears, or another type of eye drop to make your eyes feel better and see clearly. As previously mentioned, there are many different eye drops, so consulting with your eye care provider is necessary to ensure you get the best drops for your needs. If eye drops don’t make wearing contacts comfortable or manageable, many that suffer from seasonal dry eye have reverted to wearing glasses or daily single-use contacts when symptoms are bad.
Don’t Let Dry Eye Run Your Life
Dry eye can be debilitating, especially if not treated properly to give you adequate relief. If you’ve recently been diagnosed with dry eye or suspect you may be experiencing symptoms, scheduling an appointment with your eye care provider is essential. Eye doctors across the world, and even at Art of Optiks, are experienced in helping patients suffering from dry eye get the relief they need. Whether it’s learning about preventative measures and practices or incorporating the use of eye drops into your daily routine, the worry of dry eye running your life will no longer be an issue.