Discomfort, redness, gritty sensation in the eye―what if it’s just dry eye? Here is how to prevent and treat it.
What is dry eye?
Tears mainly consist of water and oily substances. They are produced by the lacrimal glands and cover the entire surface of the eye (cornea) through blinking. A thin barrier called the “tear film” nourishes the cornea, by helping to moisten and protect it from external threats such as foreign particles, bacteria, dust, etc. It also helps to prevent injury, infection and irritation.
Dry eye occurs when tear production is insufficient or impaired, or when tears evaporate too quickly. This can lead to unpleasant symptoms that can significantly impact quality of life. It is estimated that more than one person out of three is affected by dry eye after the age of 50.
What are the possible symptoms of dry eye?
Some people are unaware that their eyes are dry. Certain signs and symptoms can appear over time, such as:
- eye discomfort or pain
- irritation, itching, burning or gritty sensation in the eye (e.g., feels like a grain of sand)
- red eyes
- inflammation in the eye
- increased lacrimation
- sensitivity to light, and
- blurred vision
What are the possible causes of dry eye?
It is normal for your eyes to become increasingly dry as you age. That said, dry eye can occur at any age. It can be promoted or caused by a multitude of factors, including the following:
- insufficient blinking
- exposure to the sun, wind, cold or dry air (e.g., such as indoor heating)
- colds or allergies
- the use of contact lenses
- various chronic diseases (diabetes, Parkinson’s, Sjogrens syndrome, etc.)
- hormonal changes (e.g., menopause)
- taking certain medications (antidepressants, urinary incontinence or acne drugs, eye medications, etc.), and
- eye surgery
Our modern lifestyles contribute to the development of dry eyes. Time spent in front of technological devices (computer, tablet, phone, television, etc.) is a silent threat to eye health. With our noses glued to our screens, we don't realize that our eyes are working harder and drying out. Dry eyes are not the only eye health problem that can be caused by our excessive use of technology, whether for recreational or professional reasons. Eye strain is another very common annoying symptom.
The pandemic also has a negative impact on eye health. First, because many people have increased their use of screens due to lockdown. Also, when wearing a mask, warm, moist air can accumulate inside the mask when exhaled. Eventually, this air will escape upward toward the eyes, especially if the mask is not properly fitted. If the person is wearing glasses, they may fog up. This creates conditions for evaporation of the tear film, which reduces its quality and dries the surface of the eyes. Prolonged mask wearing can exacerbate dry eye symptoms.
How can dry eye be prevented?
- Remember to blink often, especially when you are reading or looking at a screen (computer, tablet, smartphone, television, etc.). Limit your screen time.
- Apply the 20-20-20 rule. This is a simple rule that is easy to remember and apply. It suggests taking a 20-second break from screens every 20 minutes by looking away at an object about 20 feet away. Remember to blink while you take this break.
- Avoid excessive air-conditioning or indoor heating. If the air in your home is dry, consider using a humidifier.
- Refrain from smoking or avoid exposure to second-hand smoke.
- When swimming in a pool, for example, use appropriate protective eye-wear.
- If you wear contact lenses, carefully follow use and care instructions.
- Do not use contact lenses or cleansing products past the recommended or expiry date.
- Wear sunglasses when you are exposed to sun rays.
- If you wear a mask, make sure it fits properly and follows the contours of your face. Above all, make sure that there is no gap at the top (or at the sides) where air can pass through.
How is dry eye treated?
Dry eye cannot be "cured, but its causes can be eliminated or well controlled. Treatment generally involves easing symptoms with the use of certain products. Applying artificial tears is the preferred measure to relieve dry eyes.
These products come in liquid, ointment or gel format, and most of them are available without a prescription. Since there is a wide range of products available, it is always better to ask your pharmacist for advice before purchasing one. They will help you choose the one best suited to your needs.
Artificial tears are not addictive and habit-forming. They can be used as a long-term solution without concern. However, here are some important precautions to ensure optimal and safe use of these types of products.
- Ask your pharmacist to show you the optimal administration technique for the product you intend to use.
- Do not use an eye product that has expired, that is altered (appearance, smell or viscosity) or has not been stored according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Store the container at room temperature in a cool, dry place with little exposure to moisture and temperature variations. Take the time to read the manufacturer’s storage instructions.
- Do not share your bottle or tube with anyone else, and refrain from using a product that was used by someone else.
- Ask your pharmacist to give you the expiration date of the product once it has been opened. Since there is a risk of contamination by bacteria, you cannot rely on the expiry date that appears on the bottle.
If the measures described in this article are not sufficient to address dry eye, prescription treatments may be considered. If you experience persistent dry eye, see a doctor or an eye care professional, such as an optometrist or an ophthalmologist.
If the measures described in this article are not sufficient to address dry eye, prescription treatments may be considered. If you experience persistent dry eyes, consult your doctor or an eye care professional, such as an optometrist or ophthalmologist.
Don’t hesitate to speak to your pharmacist for additional information about dry eye and its treatments.