Drop the Eye Drops!
Hitting the over-the-counter eye drops to soothe your itchy, dry eyes? While that might be a temporary solution, it’s important for your eyes’ health to ensure that the irritation is evaluated and monitored by an eye doctor.
Tears are critical to eye comfort. Produced by the lacrimal gland, tears keep eyes clean and moist. They help keep the eyes healthy, acting as a barrier to infections and other potential health impactors. And tears are the eyes’ emergency repose unit, bathing the optical surface when there’s a strain on your eyes ranging from a speck of dust to a sad movie.
When your eyes don’t make tears, or your tears don’t stay around quite long enough, that’s when dry eye takes place and the trouble begins.
You’re not alone in your discomfort: millions and millions of people of all ages deal with some degree of dry eye. There are some groups who are little more likely to experience dry eye, including The National Eye Institute’s estimate of about 5 million people age 50-plus. Post-menopausal women in particular may experience the effects of this condition to the point of damage to the surface of the eye.
Because dry eye has many causes it’s really important to establish why you’re feeling so uncomfortable. Self-medicating with eye drops can mask important symptoms and end up resulting in corneal damage and pain—even potentially temporary loss of some vision.
Stopping in to your eye doctor for a comprehensive eye exam is a critical step to make sure that your dry eyes aren’t a symptom of something more serious—and figure out how to make you comfortable in a healthy way.
The doctor will take a medical history to determine if your dry eyes are a side effect of another condition or medication. If you have a condition such as Sjögren’s syndrome or other glandular disorders, medications, and other treatments might be causing the trouble and the doctor can provide strategies for comfort.
If you wear contact lenses, your optometrist can also rule out if that particular style is right for your eyes or if its resulting in some dry eye sensitivity. A different lens choice may boost your comfort.
In addition to the traditional observation and testing that takes place during a comprehensive eye exam, dry eye patients may have a few extra tests to pinpoint just where the trouble starts. According to the Mayo Clinic, two of those bonus evaluation are:
- A Schirmer test, where the doctor places a blotting strip of paper under your lower eyelids and then measures the tears that accumulate.
- Using special eye drops with dyes in them to help the doctor view the surface of your eyes for overall condition and for the amount of time it takes for your tears to evaporate.
- Getting control over your dry eye will help ensure healthy eyes well into the future.
Is Dry Eye my problem?
Think you might be suffering from dry eye, but you’re not quite sure? The National Eye Institute reports that if your symptoms include any of the following, you should contact your eye doctor for more information:
• Stinging or burning of the eye
• Sandy or gritty feeling as if something is in the eye
• Episodes of excess tears following very dry eye periods
• Stringy discharge from the eye
• Pain and redness of the eye
• Episodes of blurred vision
• Heavy eyelids
• Inability to cry when emotionally stressed
• Uncomfortable contact lenses
• Decreased tolerance of reading, working on the computer, or any activity that requires sustained visual attention
• Eye fatigue