Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment of Dry Eyes

More and more people these days are experiencing dry eyes. The chief culprit could be all the time they’re staring at personal computers, laptops, tablets, and smartphones.

Dry eye is also called "dry keratoconjunctivitis." It’s a disease that decreases the production of tears—and their quality that causes tears to evaporate, too. This lack of tears can cause eye discomfort, abnormal visual function, and even lead to scratches on the surface of the eye. Ouch!

Symptoms of dry eye

It sounds obvious, but the main symptom of dry eye is "dry eyes." Another symptom is pain when you wear contact lenses. Here’s what else you should look for:

> Tired eyes

> Painful eyes

> Red eyes

> Difficulty opening eyes in the morning

> Watery, silky tears

> Crumpled eyes

> Gunk that collects in the corners of your eyes (rheum)

> Hazy vision

What causes dry eyes?

Different lifestyle (and workstyle) factors can all contribute to dry eye.

Staring at a digital device reduces the frequency of blinking, which means that the eyes don’t get lubricated as often. Air-conditioned rooms tend to be dry, which can dry out the eyes, too. Being a long-term wearer of contact lenses, staying up late at night, changing your eating habits, and not exercising enough can all result in dry eyes.

Also, as you get older, the amount of tears that you produce decreases, and their quality may deteriorate, making tears evaporate too fast and your eyes feel dry.

Severe dry eye can be caused by diseases such as Sjogren's syndrome and Stevens-Johnson syndrome, but these must be diagnosed by a health care provider.

How to deal with dry eye

Treatments for dry eye may include:

Over-the counter eye drops, such as Rohto® Digi Eye®. Be sure that the eye drops you use contain ingredients that balance tears (including sodium chloride, potassium chloride, calcium chloride hydrate, sodium chondroitin sulfate, pantenol, sodium hyaluronate, etc.).

Consulting an ophthalmologist, if you feel that your dry eye symptoms are getting worse, and the effects of eye drops are diminishing.

An ophthalmologist may check the amount of tears you’re producing by using the "Schirmer’s test." They’ll place a special filter paper between the edges of the eyelids, and check to see how much moisture it absorbs in 5 minutes.

They may also use a yellow stain to check the condition of the cornea and conjunctiva, using a microscope called a slit lamp. A "tear layer destruction time test" can also be performed using the same stain.

How to help prevent dry eye

Start by reviewing your daily routine, and make these positive changes to keep dry eye from affecting your health and well being:

Rest your eyes when looking at a device screen —for 15 minutes per hour. It’s also effective to put a warm, steamed towel on your eyelids, then take a break for about 10 minutes.

Use special bifocals, computer glasses, and contact lenses that are prescribed to prevent "eye strain." If the power of your glasses or contact lenses isn’t correct when you look at something nearby, such as the screen of a computer, your eyes will easily get tired. You can also get special contact lenses that are resistant to dryness, including soft ones made of silicone hydrogel.

Blink consciously, since staring too much at your computer or smartphone may reduce your rate of blinking. Take conscious blinks whenever you’re using digital devices. In addition, "incomplete blinks," in which the eyes don’t completely close, even if they’re blinking, may be the cause of dry eyes. Be especially mindful if you're using a desktop computer, and adjust your screen so that it’s below your line of sight.

Also, if you close your eyes tightly, then open them wide, oil will come out from the meibomian glands, and the evaporation of tears will be suppressed.

Avoid applying eye makeup on the inside of the eyelashes, as this can block the meibomian glands on the eyelids, interfere with oil production, and cause dry eye. These glands secrete important lipids to protect the eyes from dryness.

Massage your meibomian glands every morning and evening. When washing your face, with your eyes closed, place your fingertips on the hairline of your lashes, then shake them 1-2 mm to the left and right to massage the glands. This massage improves oil secretion and suppresses tear evaporation.

Use a humidifier to keep the atmosphere in your room moist. If you use air conditioning, it’s also important to keep it from directly hitting your face.

Eat a diet rich in antioxidants, which can relieve eye strain and improve tear quality. DHA and EPA (abundant in blue-backed fish oil), astaxanthin (the pink pigment of salmon), and crocetin (the yellow pigment of gardenia and saffron), are considered to be effective.

Use protective glasses to prevent the evaporation of tears.