Dry eye is a very common problem where the eye lacks enough tears for lubrication and nourishment. Because tears are essential in keeping the front surface of the eye healthy, vision quality and comfort can suffer when the eye surface is not maintained by healthy tears. Usually, people with dry eye either do not have enough tears or the tears that they do produce are of poor quality. Symptoms can vary depending on time of year, and are often chronic – meaning, the condition never fully goes away.
Common symptoms of “Dry Eye” include:
- Watery eyes (the eye tries to compensate for the dryness by watering)
- Stinging/burning sensation
- Foreign body sensation (feels like something is in the eye)
- Blurred vision that clears slightly when blinking, or worsens depending on time of day
- Difficulty wearing contact lenses
- Mild itchiness
- Light sensitivity
In dry climates, like we have here in San Diego, many people also experience environmental dry eye. The dry air causes the tears to evaporate at a faster rate from the surface of the eye, producing bothersome symptoms. Computer use and extended periods of reading can also contribute to symptoms – when focusing, our blink rate tends to decrease, reducing the amount of times the eyelids spread tears over the surface of the eye. When the Santa Ana winds kick up in the fall, the dry hot air from the Mojave Desert and Great Basin blow down towards coastal areas, exacerbating dry eye – or even causing dry eye in normally healthy individuals.
Risk factors for dry eye:
- Age (tear production decreases as we get older)
- Hormonal changes (pregnancy, menstruation, menopause)
- Contact Lens (contacts act like sponges and absorb your tears)
- LASIK/Refractive surgery (reduced corneal nerve sensitivity which normally triggers tear production)
- Medications (antihistamines, nasal decongestants, birth control pills, antidepressants, Accutane, and many others)
- Autoimmune conditions (Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Sjogren’s syndrome, etc.)
- Blepharitis or other eyelid problems
- Environmental Factors:
- Wind/Dry Climate
- Computer Use/Prolonged periods of reading or TV
- Air conditioning/fans/hair dryers
- Cigarette smoke/Dust
One of the best (but least expensive) methods to treat dry eye is to add Omega-3 fatty acid (fish oil) nutritional supplements to your everyday diet. The typical starting dosage for the Omega-3 fish oils is 1200 mg/day (typically one large sized gel capsule), and these supplements can be found as an odorless version that do not cause a fishy aftertaste or smell. It may take several weeks for the effects to show – and use of artificial tears is recommended concurrently. Other benefits of the Omega-3 fatty acids include a lower risk of heart disease and reduction of chronic inflammation that can lead to conditions such as stroke or cancer. There is also evidence that the DHA/EPA in omega-3 fish oils can reduce the risk of Macular Degeneration and Cataracts.
Ask your eye doctor for more information on the treatment of dry eye, including prescription strength artificial tears and medications that can increase tear production.
-Dr. Mika Fu