Eye health: dry eye syndrome
Monday 1st December
Find out more about causes and treatment options, with our Q&A with the College of Optometrists.
Why do some people experience dry eyes?
There are two main types of dry eye. The first is where not enough tears are produced by the lacrymal gland which sits above the eyeball. The second type is where the outermost, oily layer of the tear film is deficient. This oily layer is vital to reduce the evaporation of the tears and is produced by the meibomian glands in your eyelids. If these glands become blocked this will affect the oily layer of the tear film, meaning that the tears will evaporate more quickly. The most common cause of the glands being blocked is posterior blepharitis (also called meibomian gland dysfunction, or MGD), which is an inflammation of the eyelid.
Who is affected by dry eyes?
Dry eyes are most likely to affect people who are over the age of 60, and it is more common in women than men. Dry eyes may also be linked to health conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or Sjogren’s syndrome.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms can be mild or severe, and can include itchiness or scratchiness around your eyes, as well as blurred vision. While the condition is not usually serious, there are some rare cases where severe untreated dry eye has led to scarring of the eye's surface.
Is it treatable?
Before beginning any treatment for dry eye, it is important to understand the underlying cause. If blepharitis or MGD is present, it should be treated to improve the oily layer of the tear film. This can easily be done at home with hot compresses and lid hygiene. Dry eyes can also be treated with eye drops, gels and ointments that contain “tear substitutes”, a liquid that is designed to mimic the properties of tears. These eye drops are available from a pharmacy without prescription.
Dr Susan Blakeney, clinical advisor at the College of Optometrists, has the following advice to help minimise the discomfort of dry eyes.
- Lower the thermostat in rooms. High temperatures make tears evaporate more quickly
- Blink more when using a computer.
- Position your computer correctly. To minimise eye strain, your monitor should be at or just below eye level.
- Eat oily fish, or try an omega-3 supplement.Omega-3 fatty acids (found in oily fish such as salmon) may reduce your risk of dry eyes.
- Protect your eyes from wind and hot air. Wraparound glasses provide good protection.
- Stop smoking / avoid smoky atmospheres. This can help reduce irritation.
- use a humidifier at work and at home.
Visit your optometrist if you are concerned about the health of your eyes, or if you have noticed symptoms for the first time. The optometrist is the eye health specialist on the high street and will be able to advise you as to the best course of action.
Go to the College of Optometrists' website for more information about looking after your eyesight, including details about the different types of tears we produce.
The benenden cash plans (ages 17 to 65 and age 66 plus) provide cash back for a number of regular health expenses, including optical care.