What it is, why it hurts, and how Eye Associates Northwest can ease your pain

Are your eyes constantly uncomfortable? Burning? Red? Itchy? Does it feel like you’ve got grit in your eyes that just won’t go away? You’ve tried eye drops, eye flushes, and artificial tears but nothing fixes the problem. “It’s allergies,” you tell yourself, even though you’ve tried every allergy medication on the pharmacy shelf to no avail.

If this sounds familiar, chances are you have Dry Eye Syndrome.

What is Dry Eye Syndrome

Woman suffering itching scratching eyes outdoors in a park

Dry Eye Syndrome is a complex, progressive disease resulting from chronic damage to the parts of the eye that produces and supports tears. Simply put, it’s a shortage of tears.

Tears are the eye’s natural lubricant and moisturizer. They keep the eye’s surface protected, moist and healthy. If the eye doesn’t produce enough tears, or if the quality of the tears is poor, Dry Eye Syndrome sets in. For most people, this presents as blurry vision, constant burning, and red eyes. In others, it manifests as ongoing tearing – a deceptive masquerade of dryness as the eye attempts to remedy the situation by making more inadequate tears. Other Dry Eye Syndrome symptoms include:

  • The sensation of sand or grit in the eye.
  • Redness, irritation or tearing, especially with wind or dust.
  • Difficulty wearing contact lenses.
  • Intermittent and fluctuating blurring.

Left unchecked, Dry Eye Syndrome can significantly impact your quality of life, progressively get worse, and may lead to permanent vision loss.

How you get Dry Eye Syndrome

Dry Eye Syndrome is a multifactorial issue affecting many systems that help the eye produce tears. Though there are many things that can cause this chronic discomfort, most often it is due to ordinary activities that are repetitively done wrong. For example, our normal blink rate drops while working on our computers and digital devices. This leads to exposure and disrupts normal tear production.

Other dry eye causes include:

  • Autoimmune or inflammatory diseases, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, or Sjögren’s syndrome.
  • Other diseases, like diabetes and herpes zoster.
  • Extensive contact lens wear.
  • Refractive eye surgeries, such as LASIK.
  • Some over-the-counter and prescription medications, such as anti-allergy medications, blood pressure medications, sleeping pills, pain medications, anti-anxiety medications, hormone replacement therapy.

There are also environmental causes, such as humidity, fans, smoky air, air conditioning, etc. All increase evaporation and dry out the eyes.

Who’s at risk

Anyone can get Dry Eye Syndrome. It affects millions of people regardless of age, race, and gender; approximately 5 million people in the United States annually. It’s usually connected with hormone changes making the elderly and women (hello, menopause) prime candidates. However, it has been linked to computer use, which means we’re seeing it in younger people more and more.

Concerned you might have Dry Eye Syndrome? 

How to treat it

Dry Eye Syndrome is a chronic disease. There’s no cure for it, however, it is treatable. If caught early enough, treatments can be minimal and sporadic. Care may also wax and wane with the seasons or change based on your environment.

Although it’s crucial to work with an eye care provider to develop a sustainable plan you can incorporate into your lifestyle, there are a few easy things you can do at home to ease symptoms, such as:

  • Drinking more water. Increasing your water intake to at least 64 ounces per day may improve symptoms.
  • Controlling your environment. Avoid and mitigate situations that cause tears to evaporate quickly. For example, use a humidifier in a dry house, wear wrap-around glasses in the wind, avoid smoking or being around smokers.
  • Use artificial tears. Mild to moderate Dry Eye Syndrome cases can be treated with judicious use of artificial tear eye drops. Our favorite option is preservative-free tears. Consult your eye care provider to see if this might work for you.
  • Warm compresses and lid scrubs. These can help improve tear quality and remove any debris that can irritate the eyes and exacerbate symptoms.

Discover the Center for Eye Comfort

Unique to the Seattle metro area, Eye Associates Northwest has a dedicated dry eye division. Our Center for Eye Comfort focuses specifically on dry eye and ocular surface disease. The Center for Eye Comfort offers extensive advanced diagnostics and a robust menu of treatment options. With our state-of-the-art equipment and our experienced dry eye team, we’ll have your eye’s feeling better in no time. 

Think you may have Dry Eye Syndrome? Contact the Center for Eye Comfort to make an appointment with Dr. Lam and her team. You can also call 206-215-2020.