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Dry Eyes: In the Eye of the Hurricane

November 6, 2017

If you've ever had an occasional case of "dry eyes," it can feel like you're right in the middle of a hurricane.  And if you're one of the approximately 5 million people who suffer from Dry Eye Syndrome (or simply "dry eye"), it can feel like the eyes are filled with grit and have a stinging sensation, redness, fatigue and/or light sensitivity.  The syndrome can even adversely affect vision and reduce the ability to focus, distinguish objects or measure distance accurately.  In effect, it can seriously impact an individual's ability to function in a normal fashion and accomplish the routine activities of daily living, not to mention carry on a daily job or one's chosen profession.  So while a hurricane eventually passes by, dry eye is a long-term problem with no cure in sight.

Even the mildest symptoms of dry eye can make a person's day miserable.  When the condition starts in the early stages, most people simply work through it by closing and resting the eyes and waiting for the episode to pass as the eyes re-hydrate.  This may work initially but as time progresses, symptoms worsen and most people eventually seek help from an eye doctor or their medical provider.

Unfortunately, with the onset of focused working on computers, playing electronic games for extended periods and watching TV for many hours, the rate at which an individual blinks can be significantly reduced thereby negatively affecting the amount of tears produced in a day.  All this has led to dry eye becoming one of the most common medical problems in the U.S. today.  

Most people who suffer from the condition are 50 years old or older which makes the aging process even more challenging for individuals on blood pressure medications because they can cause even further dehydration.  And some of these medications, including antidepressants, also have antihistamine properties which dry up the body's secretions, i.e., tear production.  In addition, decreased hormones associated with aging (think, menopause), is another cause of dry eye.  This helps explain why of the 4.88 million people in the U.S. who suffer from dry eye, 3 million are women.

Everyone should consider taking Omega-3 supplements  or eating a diet rich in these fatty acids as a way of helping to prevent the problem from developing in the first place.  It helps to improve the quality and flow of oil from the eye's oil glands into the tear film.  It's also helpful to apply warm compresses (a warm moist washcloth) and massage the eyelids to increase oil flow.  Aside from these conservative measures, an optometrist or ophthalmologist can prescribe medications with anti-inflammatory properties or possibly recommend surgical treatments (punctal plugs) that have proven useful.

As mentioned, there is no cure for this condition but fortunately there are various interventions available, such as artificial tears, and the sooner an individual seeks medical help, the better chance there is of delaying or preventing some of the more serious long-term problems associated with this disease.  For the elderly and all those suffering from the condition, this is very good news.

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