The 20th century has not been good for our eyes. Every day, our eyes are exposed to bright lights, computer screen glare, pollution, and other eye irritants. And our eyes are crying for help.
The initial reaction of the eye to irritation is to cry—to produce copious amounts of tears that will wash the surface of the eyes from any irritation. However, like every other body part, our tear glands eventually become fatigued. And like every other body part that we overuse, they break down. That’s when dry eyes set in.
How do you know you have dry eyes? Do you have:
· Eye stinging or burning?
· A sandy or gritty feeling in the eyes?
· Excessive tearing followed by eye dryness?
· Eye discharge that becomes stringy (like melted cheese)?
· Blurred vision or heavy eyelids?
· Uncomfortable contact lenses?
· Glare or eye pain while reading or working in front of a computer?
If you answered “yes” to any one of these questions, then you could have dry eyes.
Up to one in five adults can have dry eyes at one point in their life, and for many, it can persist for years. At first, dry eyes can be a mere inconvenience. But imagine every waking moment of your life where your eyes sting, and everything becomes blurry at first, but eventually turns into a painful glare. That’s what dry eyes eventually lead to if you don’t act, and it can cost you your eyesight.
The reason why dry eyes can result to blindness is that the clear surface of your eyes called the cornea needs to be moist to survive. It has no blood vessels to provide it with oxygen and nutrients. Instead, it relies on the tear film to keep it well bathed and well nourished. Tears have an oily layer, a watery layer, and a mucous layer, together forming a film rich in proteins, growth factors, electrolytes, and vitamins that keep the cornea healthy. Remove the tear film, and the cornea degenerates and becomes opaque—this can lead to ulcers, scarring, and blindness.
Furthermore, the cornea is rich in nerve endings that feel pain when exposed to irritants. This causes the painful sensation you get when a speck or smoke gets into your eyes. When your corneas dry up and become inflamed, the nerve endings release a continuous signal of pain sensations that leads to eye pain.
There are many known causes of dry eyes. These include:
· Medications such as isotretinoin, sleeping pills, antidepressants, antihypertensive medications, anti-allergy pills, cold medications, and oral contraceptive pills;
· Aging and menopause;
· Contact lens use, even with the use of soft contact lenses;
· Eye injuries;
· Vitamin A deficiency; and,
· Eye surgery, including laser surgery, on occasion.
Additionally, some people do not have these causes but still get dry eyes. In these patients, the dry eyes could be the result of several factors that predispose to eye dryness, such as eye strain, computer use, inadequate sleep, dry air (air conditioning) and/or cigarette smoking. All these cause an overall degeneration of the eyes that push the tear glands to fatigue.
Drench your dry eyes
Clinical studies have not been able to determine any specific measures to completely prevent dry eyes from happening. However, there are many ways we can minimize the discomfort of dry eyes. Even those without symptoms of dry eyes should take heed, because these tips are also important in taking good care of your eyes, with or without dry eyes.
· Avoid smoky environments and eye-irritating dust.
· When reading, concentrating, using the computer, or staying in an air-conditioned room, close your eyes periodically to rest your eyes and replenish the tear-film covering of your eyes.
· Do not rub your eyes (we have been taught this since grade school).
· Avoid exposing your eyes to wind drafts, especially from warm air from the hair dryer or heater. This will cause your tears to evaporate quickly, leaving your eyes dry.
· When your eyes are exposed to drafts, wear goggles that can break the breeze.
· If you are wearing contact lenses, remove them at night or every time you need your eyes to rest. Or consult an optometrist or ophthalmologist about ways to improve your vision without contact lenses. If your dry eye is really bothersome, consider going back to spectacles.
· Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize—but regular eye drops may not do much good for those with moderate to severe dry eyes. Instead, use an eye lubricant or artificial tears, which are available over the counter, but you may need to ask the pharmacist for assistance. Apply artificial tears at least three times daily.
Lastly, if you are experiencing bothersome eye pain, eye redness, eye discharge (muta) or blurring of vision, it is best to see a health professional such as an optometrist or ophthalmologist.