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Dry eye is quite common, affecting 15-33 percent of people over the age of 65. It's also twice as common in women than men. Symptoms are usually mild and complications are rare.
What is dry eye?
Dry eye involves a sensation of having dry eyes. This is usually caused by one of several reasons – either your tears dry out too quickly, your tears aren't good enough quality or your eyes don't produce enough tears.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms are usually mild and include:
• Soreness or grittiness in the eyes
• Dry, red, burning eyes
• Blurred vision that improves after blinking
• Watery eyes, which may happen if the eye tries producing more tears to relieve the dryness
What are the causes?
This condition arises when there's a problem with any stage of the tear production process or with the quality or quantity of tears produced. Poor quality tears evaporate quickly. A combination of factors are usually at play and it's sometimes difficult to pinpoint one cause. Here are some common causes:
• Hormonal changes, such as during pregnancy, during menopause or when using the contraceptive pill
• Environmental factors, like too much sun or wind or heat
• Some activities that can strain the eyes by making you stare more or reducing your blink rate, such as reading, writing, or using the computer
• Certain medicines, which include some antidepressants, antihistamines - used in allergies, and certain blood pressure-lowering medicines (diuretics and beta-blockers)
• Using contact lenses
• Recent laser eye surgery
• Certain medical conditions like Bell's palsy, Sjogren's syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus
What are the complications?
If left untreated, or if your condition is severe, you're more likely to get complications:
• Conjunctivitis, which is an infection of the white part of the eye and the inner surface of the eyelids. Lack of tears in the eye makes the eye vulnerable to infections
• Keratitis and ulcers. These are rare but can be serious and should be treated promptly
How can I manage my symptoms?
There's plenty you can do to help relieve your symptoms of dry eyes. The following may help you feel better:
• Keep yourself well hydrated and drink plenty of water
• Try an over the counter product that's designed to alleviate dry eye symptoms, like artificial tears
• Wear sunglasses in smoky, hot or dusty environments, or avoid these areas where possible
• Keep your eyelids and eyelashes clean by gently cleaning them – your optician can advise you how to do this
• Some people believe omega-3 can help to ease symptoms but this has not been proven. It can be found in oily fish and plant-based sources like walnuts and rapeseed oil
You'll also need to treat any underlying condition to relieve your symptoms.
If your symptoms persist, speak to your pharmacist who'll be able to provide you with some tear replacement medicines. These come in the form of drops, gels and ointments.
When should I see my GP?
See your GP or optician at your earliest convenience if you get any of the following:
• Pain in your eyes when looking at bright light
• Severe redness in one eye
• Very painful eyes
• Impaired vision
• Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes in hot, smoky or dusty environments and keep eyes clean
• Use tear drop substitution medicines - your pharmacist, optician or optometrist will help you find a suitable formulation
• See your GP if you get very painful eyes, decreased vision or pronounced redness