Dry eyes ruining your days (and nights)?
It might sound like a simple, trivial matter, but anyone who’s experienced it knows it’s a quite serious and disturbing problem. So yes, we understand how you feel.
Dry eyes not only make you feel uncomfortable by irritating your eyes but also interfere with your vision.
Some of the questions you might ask are – what causes dry eyes? How can I fix my dry eyes? And so on.
This post is dedicated to dry eyes. We’re going to explore the symptoms associated with the dry eye syndrome, the possible causes, risk factors, and the treatment and home remedy options available.
By the time you’re done reading this guide, you should be able to pinpoint the cause(s) of your dry eyes and know what fixes you’re going to try.
Let’s jump in.
Before we even go into the causes, signs and remedies of dry eyes, we’d like you to know what your tears are made of, and why they’re important. After all, is it not the insufficiency of tears that creates the dry situation?
So, your tears contain:
- Proteins and lipids
- Electrolytes like sodium chloride – which give a salty taste
Let’s see the importance of these ingredients.
- Water – it keeps your eyes moist, and prevents them from feeling or looking dry. The water contains vitamins and minerals for the nourishment of your epithelial (or surface) cells of your eyes.
- Lipids and mucus – these serve 3 critical roles. First, they prevent the water from evaporating and leaving your eyes dry. Secondly, they lubricate your eyes, so that eye movements, including blinking, don’t hurt. And thirdly, they, working together with the eye movements, help distribute the moisture to the entire surface of the eye, so there are no dry spots.
- Antibodies – your eyes are exposed to the outside environment, which contains plenty of viruses and bacteria that might damage them. In a healthy state, your eyes are able to fight off these threats because there are antibodies in your tears acting as your natural guard.
As you can see, tears are pretty important. And there’s another crucial purpose that your tears have – keeping your eyes clean. You might have noticed that every time a dust particle comes into contact with your eyes, lots of tears are released quickly. That’s in an effort to get rid of the foreign substance, and it works.
Symptoms of Dry Eyes
You could be asking – so when can I say that I am suffering from dry eyes? Well, here are a few signs to look out for:
- Redness in the eyes.
- You become more sensitive to light.
- Your eyes feel itchy and you feel the urge to scratch them.
- A burning/stinging sensation in the eyes.
- You feel like there’s something in the eyes.
- Eye fatigue.
- Blurred vision.
- Uncomfortable feeling when you wear contact lenses.
- A gritty sensation.
- Your eyes become watery – seems ironical but it’s not. The tears generated are mostly water and don’t act like normal tears, so they dry quickly and the cycle keeps repeating.
Now that you know how to identify dry eyes, let’s see what causes them.
Causes of Dry Eyes
Basically, if you have dry eyes, that means you have inadequacy of tears. That could be as a result of less tears being produced. Or, it could be that your tears are evaporating too quickly. Still, there could be an imbalance of your tears’ makeup.
Another situation that can cause dry eyes is the presence of an underlying medical condition like diabetes or arthritis.
Without further, let’s delve into the main causes that you know.
Less production of tears
Ever heard of sicca syndrome? That’s the term given to the condition of not being able to produce adequate tears.
You might have noticed that as people grow older, their eyes get drier. Why is it like that? Because with age, tear production decreases. Moreover, the makeup of the tear film experiences changes, making it unable to lock in the moisture as well as before.
Remember, older people are more susceptible to chronic illnesses like diabetes, rheumatism, and arthritis, which have been showed to cause dry eyes. In women, the hormonal changes that occur during menopause might interfere with the production of tears, leading to dry eyes.
Medication side effects
According to Mayo Clinic, the following drugs/medical procedures might disrupt your tear production process, causing dry eyes:
- High blood pressure medication
- Hormone replacement therapy
- Laser eye surgery
More evaporation of tears
There are various situations/things that might cause your tears to evaporate faster than normal from your eyes. They include:
- Blinking less frequently – when you’re doing an activity that requires higher levels of concentration, you might do your best to blink less often, and that will cause more evaporation of your tears. This usually happens when you’re driving, reading or working in front of your PC.
- Dry air.
- Issues with your eyelids that cause them not to move normally, such as in-turning or out-turning.
- Intentionally deciding not to blink – we used to do this when we were kids, what about you?
Changes in the makeup of your tears
As mentioned earlier, tears are mainly made of water, oil and mucus. If any of these main constituents has a problem, you might end up with dry eyes.
For instance, if you have an inflammatory condition affecting the edges of your eyelids, it might block the little ducts through which the oil comes. If the blockage happens, there’s little oil to hold the moisture, and dry eyes result.
Hormonal changes are also known to interfere with the composition of tears, causing dry eyes.
For someone that has diabetes mellitus, getting dry eyes at some point is almost unavoidable. First of all, diabetes mellitus makes you pass urine very frequently, thereby losing water can happen at a high rate unless you keep hydrated.
As water is needed for tears production, low water levels lead to dry eyes.
The second way that diabetes causes dry eyes is through nerve damage. You see, the lacrimal glands, which secretes tears, is regulated by the brain, through pathways that involve nerves.
The high blood sugar levels, associated with diabetes, might damage nerves. And if the nerves going to/from the lacrimal gland are damaged, that interrupts with the feedback loop, and in the process, less than necessary tears might be produced.
Before we go into the relief/treatment options available for dry eyes, you might want to know the risk factors involved. Let’s discuss them a bit.
Risk Factors for Dry Eyes
- Age – the production of tears diminishes are you age. As you get past 50, your susceptibility to dry eyes goes a notch higher.
- Contact lenses – these limit the flow of oxygen to the eyes, thereby curtailing tear production.
- Failure to eat a balanced diet – with most conditions, the lack of a balanced diet makes things worse, while the opposite makes things better. Especially if you don’t get enough vitamin A, which is found in carrots, nuts, veggies, livers and fish, you’re likely to get dry eyes often.
- Being a lady – women often face hormonal imbalance situations from the monthly periods, birth control pills, pregnancy, and menopause. Hormonal imbalance is one of the main causes of dry eyes.
Treatment options for Dry Eyes
If your symptoms are only mild, you could just try some home remedies. But if your dry eyes are affecting you a lot, are accompanied by other symptoms like pain or underlying medical conditions like diabetes, or if it’s a persistent situation, then it’s wise to see a medical expert immediately.
In this section, we’ll look at the treatment options and then delve into some effective home remedies.
When you visit a doctor, the first thing they’ll do is a diagnosis to find out the causes of your symptoms. The test could involve:
- A measurement of your tears by volume – paper strips are attached to your lower eyelid and after a few minutes, the doctor removes them and measures the amount of tears soaked in there.
- Determination of the tears’ quality – such as the evaporation rate and the composition.
- A full assessment of your eye health – might include taking the history and looking for common eye conditions.
After that, the doctor will recommend or execute the appropriate treatment plan.
Treatment options could be:
- Over the counter (OTC) eyedrops – these are usually artificial tears, and they’re used when your symptoms are only mild or occasional.
- Improving the quality of your tears – this could be done with supplements or just eyedrops to prevent quick evaporation.
- Plastic surgery – this is for people with skin conditions that affect the eyelids. For instance, if you have in-turning or out-turning eyelids, this will have to be rectified.
- Cholinergics – available in the form of gels, eyedrops or pills, these are drugs that boost tear production. You might experience excessive sweating as a side effect.
- Antibiotics or anti-inflammatory drugs – if your eyelids are inflamed, causing the tiny glands in there from producing oil, then you may be given antibiotics to treat the inflammation. These may be oral pills, ointments, or eyedrops. Other anti-inflammatory drugs, such as cyclosporine may be used to solve inflammation on your cornea.
- Blood serum eyedrops – these are drops made from your blood. A blood sample from your body is taken and red blood cells are extracted, then mixed with a saline solution to make the eyedrops. These are used where your dry eyes case is severe and you won’t respond to other treatment options.
- Managing the underlying medical condition – if you have a condition like diabetes or arthritis causing the dry eyes, then you’ll be referred to a specialist for that condition to have it managed in addition to relieving the dry eye syndrome.
- Hydroxypropyl cellulose insert – this is an eye insert that looks like a rice grain, and it works like artificial tears, only on a higher level. If artificial tears don’t work, you place the grain under your lower eyelid. It will dissolve slowly, releasing a lubricant for your eyes.
- Contact lenses – there are special purpose contact lenses specifically meant for people with dry eyes syndrome. Scleral lenses, for instance, trap moisture.
- Punctal plugs – these are little silicone plugs for plugging tear ducts to minimize the drainage of tears. They’re removable.
- Partial or complete closure of tear ducts – this procedure is also meant to reduce tear wastage by drainage through the tear ducts. It can be partial or total.
- Light therapy followed by massage – intense-pulsed light is used to unclog the glands, and afterward, a light massage is done on the lids.
Before we move onto the home remedies for dry eyes, there’s something we’d like you to note about OTC eyedrops/ointments.
There are two types of OTC eyedrops:
- Preservative drops – as the name suggests, they have preservatives added to make their shelf life longer. However, if you use them too frequently, these can irritate your eyes. Use them not more than 4 times per day.
- Non-preservative drops – these come in many one-time-use vessels. After opening the vessel, you cannot store it and use the product later. The good thing about these is that they’re safe; no eye irritation.
Eyedrops versus ointments – when purchasing, you can go for either eyedrops or ointments. Here’s the difference:
- Ointments – these are for long-lasting relief. Thicker than drops, they coat your eyes and offer better lubrication for longer. That being said, they cloud vision, so it’s best to use them when going to bed or when you’re not doing activities that require a clear vision, like reading or driving.
- Eyedrops – they’re good but their lubrication quality and longevity are less than what ointments offer. On the plus side, they don’t cloud with your vision. Thus, you can use them anytime.
With that aside, let’s now look at the home remedies you can try for dry eyes relief.
Home Remedies for Dry Eyes That Work
So, if your symptoms are not severe, or if you’re looking for a way to manage your dry eye condition at home, here are several relief measures you can try:
Oil producing glands are located at the edges of your eyelids. Thus, if your eyelids are suffering from an inflammatory condition, the glands could get clogged, meaning oil will not get released efficiently, and thereby leading to a dry eye condition.
But, with a warm compress, you can unclog the glands and solve the issue or alleviate it.
Just boil some water and soak a soft towel in it. After wringing it out, close the affected eye and gently press the wet towel on the eyelids. Press for a minute or so, then remove it and wet it again before repeating the process a bunch of times.
The heat and the moisture evaporating from the towel will loosen the glands and help oil to reach your eyeball.
As you saw earlier, failure to blink can cause dry eyes. This happens especially when you’re concentrating, like when reading, driving, or working in front of a PC.
So, try to consciously blink when doing these activities. That will distribute the tears properly and keep your eyes from drying.
Ever heard of the 20/20 rule? After every 20 minutes of reading or working in front of a computer, close your eyes for 20 seconds.
Hack: avoid looking up to your computer or TV. Set it at a place where you’re looking down at it; not up. That way, you’ll not have to open your eyes very wide, and thus your tears will not evaporate as fast.
Avocados contain healthy fats, which have been shown to boost the manufacture of oil in the eye’s glands. And it’s not just avocados; anything that is a source of healthy fats. That includes:
- Oily fish like trout, tuna, and salmon.
- Vegetable oil.
Drink more fresh water
A large portion of tears is made of water. That means your body needs water to make tears. If there’s water insufficiency in your body, then dry eyes are likely to happen. So, drink plenty of water every day. If dry eyes is an issue you’re trying to deal with, don’t wait until you feel thirsty to drink water.
At least 8 glasses of water should be enough. Watermelons and other water-rich foods should also be at the top of your menu.
Put on sunglasses
As discussed earlier, wind is one of the causes of dry eyes. By blowing against them, it makes the tears evaporate at a faster rate. To deal with that, wear sunglasses or normal reading glass when going outside your house.
And when you’re at home, ensure the air conditioner doesn’t blow air towards your eyes.
Castor oil drops
If you have castor oil at home, you can put a drop each eye to prevent drying. The oil works by locking in the moisture in your eyes and reducing its evaporation.
Before you go, you might want to look at the possible complications that might arise from dry eyes, as well as some of the frequently asked questions about dry eyes.
What Complications Can Arise from Dry Eyes?
If your dry eyes go untreated, here are some of the complications you may face:
Remember what we discussed about the composition of tears? Your tears contain natural antibodies. These help fight off infections that might affect the eyes or even gain entry to your body. With a persistent dry eye condition comes the risk of getting infections.
Tears act as lubrication, so that when you move your eyeballs and eyelids, friction isn’t generated to the point of hurting you. Without that lubrication, you can experience abrasion of the cornea, ulcers of the cornea, and other damage.
Pain in the eyes and headaches
With the inflammation and damage of the eyes, you’ll obviously experience pain in the eyes and also headaches.
But you don’t have to let the situation get there; get treated or try the home remedies we’ve talked about.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Can drinking water solve dry eyes?
Water is one of the main constituents of tears. If your dry eyes situation is a result of dehydration, then drinking enough water will help.
How do I keep my eyes hydrated?
First of all, drink enough water. If that doesn’t solve the issue, use artificial tears (available in eyedrops), which contain oil, to prevent the moisture from leaving too quickly. A humidifier will also help.
Are dry eyes dangerous?
Dry eyes are not a life-threatening condition. However, if left untreated, they can result in eye damage, such as ulcers and abrasion on the cornea, impairing vision, and that’s a serious problem.
Is it bad to use eye drops too much?
When used excessively, eyedrops can cause natural tears to wash away. That, in turn, leads to increased dependency on them to sooth your eyes and keep them moisturized.
It’s okay to use OTC eyedrops, but if the dry eyes problem doesn’t get better after a few days, it’s advisable to see a doctor or get a prescription for eyedrops from an eye specialist.
What foods can help my dry eyes?
Anything that’s rich in water like watermelon and cucumber. Also, eat food rich in natural, healthy fats, like oily fish, walnuts, flaxseeds, soybeans, and omega-3 rich oatmeal or pasta.
So, have you been able to pinpoint the cause of your dry eyes? Is it an infection, insufficiency of water in your body, wind, or are you just spending too much time in front of the TV or computer without following the 20-20 rule?
Whatever the cause, there’s a variety of treatment options as discussed above.
If your symptoms are only mild, you can start by avoiding the cause, and by doing warm compresses, drinking more water, and blinking more. In case that doesn’t help, go for a suitable OTC eyedrop product.
On the other hand, if your symptoms are more severe, make it a point to see an eye specialist.