Dry eyes – have you ever suffered from them? If you have, you’ll know how painful they can be. I suffer from dry eyes and need to treat them regularly. If I don’t, they can become unbearably painful. My dry eyes are probably caused by some of the medication I need to take for trigeminal neuralgia and other chronic pain.
Many People Suffer From Dry eyes
Our eyes need lubrication to protect and nourish them. This lubrication comes in the form of tears. However, for many people, this is a problem. They might not be able to produce enough tears or their tears might be of poor quality.
Tears are a mix of oil, water and mucus. The oil helps to prevent the water from evaporating and the mucous helps to spread the tears evenly over the surface of the eye. If the tears evaporate too quickly or don’t spread across the eye, we can develop dry eyes.
As well as being uncomfortable and painful, the condition can also be quite distressing, especially if you’re dealing with other health issues too. If you suffer from dry eyes, it really is important to treat them. However, it’s also important to have your dry eyes checked by a doctor, optician or ophthalmologist.
What Are the Symptoms of Dry Eyes
At best, dry eyes are uncomfortable but they can often be extremely painful. People often feel as though something is in their eye. Eyes can burn, sting, itch or feel very gritty. Dry eyes can look red, cause blurry vision, be sensitive to light and they might also be very watery. This often surprises people because they assume that if their eyes are watering, they can’t have dry eyes. However, eyes need lubrication and those ‘watery eye’ kind of tears have none.
Testing for Dry Eyes
You might have dry eye symptoms, but if you have chronic dry eyes, you really need to speak to a doctor, ophthalmologist or optician. They will check your eyes for damage and will probably perform a test (Schirmer’s Test) to evaluate how dry your eyes are.
The Schirmer’s Test
This is a simple test to find out how dry your eyes are. I’ve had it done – it’s painless.
Numbing eye drops will normally be put into your eyes prior to the test. The examining doctor places the edge of a small strip of filter paper under each of your lower eyelids. The papers are left in place for a few minutes while your eyes are closed. By looking at the strips of paper afterwards, the doctor will know how much moisture your eyes are producing.
What Can Cause Dry Eyes
Several things can cause dry eyes:
Prescription and over the counter medication such as painkillers, anticonvulsants, antidepressants and antihistamines can cause or make dry eyes worse. Always check the patient information leaflet which comes with the medication because it will tell you if dry eyes are a possible side effect.
- Health conditions
Some health conditions such as Sjögrens Syndrome, lupus, rosacea and diabetes can cause dry eyes.
Blapharitis is a painful eye condition. The oil glands on your eyelid become clogged, therefore, tears won’t get the oil they need to lubricate the eye.
This might sound obvious but if your body is dehydrated, your eyes will be too.
Dry eyes are more common in people over the age of fifty.
Hormones help to stimulate tear production, so when there is an imbalance, especially during the menopause or pregnancy, eyes can become dry.
Looking at television, computer or phone screens for too long can cause or worsen the condition.
Wind and cold can affect your eyes, as can air conditioning and central heating.
Dry, dusty or smoky environments can cause or exacerbate the condition.
Since it dehydrates, alcohol can dry your eyes.
- Contact lenses
You might need them, but they might irritate your eyes.
- Lack of Vitamin A
Vitamin A helps to keep eyes, including tear production, healthy.
How to Treat Dry Eyes
If the problem is very severe, a doctor can provide medication or carry out procedures to help. However, there are several things you can do to try (and avoid doing) to help your dry eyes yourself.
Treat Your Dry Eyes to Some Artificial Tears
There are many products that can be used to help lubricate your eyes. Eye drops, gels, sprays and ointments can be bought from a pharmacy over the counter. However, if you have a chronic problem, your doctor may need to prescribe products to help.
Eye drops or gels need to be used regularly following the doctor’s or manufacturer’s instructions. Gels might make your vision blurry for a short time but often give more relief for a longer period. It’s good practice to use a thicker gel or ointment at night before you sleep.
Clean Your Eyes and Use A Warm Compress on Them
This is very important and will also help if you have blepharitis.
Clean your eyelids and lashes at least once a day with a moist, warm flannel or special eye wipes.
Place a warm moist compress on your eyes for fifteen minutes at a time because this can help to unblock oil glands. You can use a flannel or purchase a mask specifically for that purpose. When the mask is heated, it will hold its heat whereas a flannel will cool down.
It may be tempting to place something cool and refreshing on your eyes but this will not help. The purpose of the heat is to unblock the oil glands.
Don’t Rub Your Eyes
Try not to rub your eyes as that could cause dust or grit to scratch the cornea. If you feel the need to rub them because they feel irritated, reach for your eye drops instead.
Rest Your Eyes and Don’t Forget to Blink
Take regular breaks from screens so that your eyes can get a rest.
Blink! Very often, we stare at screens and don’t blink as often as we should. Blinking more often will help to spread tears across the surface of the eye.
You might not be aware of it, but your eyes might not be tightly closed at night while you’re asleep. If that’s the case, dry air and dust can irritate your eyes so an eye mask could help.
If your medication is causing a severe dry eye problem, speak to your doctor because there might be an alternative. Sometimes, however, we do have to accept some side effects. But no matter how bad side effects are, never stop medication without consulting a doctor.
If contact lenses are causing the problem, speak to your optician because they can advise on special drops and might be able to provide a different type of lens that could be more suitable. If not, you may need to alternate between your contacts and glasses or even revert to glasses completely.
Atmosphere and Surroundings
Avoid smoking and being in a smoky area.
If you need to be in a dry dusty or sandy environment, always wear safety glasses or wraparound sunglasses.
On cold or windy days, protect your eyes by using glasses.
Don’t let fans, heaters or hairdryers point directly at your eyes.
While flying, try to close your eyes, wear an eye mask and use eye drops or gels.
Use a humidifier in your home or workplace if there is central heating or air conditioning. This will stop the air from being so dry.
Food and Supplements
Supplements can often be helpful, but it’s always good to get nutrition directly from food.
Vitamin A is good for eye health so try to include more food containing it in your diet. Foods such as eggs, dairy products, oily fish and liver are rich in Vitamin A, as well as spinach, broccoli, carrots, mangoes and apricots.
A study has found that Omega-3 fatty acid supplements can also help.
And remember to drink enough so that you stay well hydrated.
Why it’s Important to Treat Dry Eyes
If you have dry eyes, you should never ignore them because, apart from the pain, they can cause other problems.
People with dry eyes can be prone to eye infections. When there is no moisture to keep them clean, dust and grit can get into your eyes and cause scratches to the cornea. Those scratches could become infected which, in severe cases, could even lead to blindness.
Tell Your Doctor if You Have Chronic Dry Eyes
As well as evaluating your eye health, your doctor needs to know if you have chronic dry eyes. If the problem is severe, they may be able to help more. But since dry eyes can be a symptom of several health conditions, your doctor may want to perform tests to check for those. It’s always important to give doctors a full picture of your health so they can give as much help as possible.
Do you suffer from dry eyes? Do you know what causes it? I hope this post helps you.
Please note that I am not medically qualified in any way. The posts on Despite Pain are written using my experience and knowledge as a patient. This blog is not intended as a substitute for medical advice from a health care professional.