According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, 4.88 million individuals over the age of 50 have dry eye syndrome, which is characterized by red, itchy, scratchy eyes. Thankfully, this common eye ailment is completely treatable once the causes are known.
Causes of Dry Eye
Dry eye occurs when there is a problem with the basal tears. Basal tears are not like emotional tears, which are comprised of oil, water, and mucus. The oil helps prevent the tears from drying too quickly on the surface of the eye. The watery layer helps the tears spread evenly over the eyes, and the mucus layer combines with the watery layer to help ensure eye hydration. If any of these layers are deficient, symptoms of dry eye can develop.
- Medications – The most common cause of dry eye is prescription and OTC medications. Usually, they will list dry eye as a side-effect.
- Older Adults – As we age, the basal tear production in the eyes can reduce. This is why most people who have dry eye are over the age of 50.
- Having an Immune Disorder – Autoimmune disorders can cause dry eyes. Common conditions include Lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and Sjogren’s syndrome.
- Having Allergies – Seasonal allergies can lead to dry, itchy scratchy eyes.
- Environmental Conditions – Individuals who work in dry, dusty or windy conditions can develop symptoms of dry eye.
Symptoms of Dry Eye
Dry eye can result in a wide range of symptoms that may not be readily noticeable. If you have any of these symptoms, it is important to call our office and schedule an appointment with Dr. Wittrock to diagnose the causes of your dry eye and develop a dry eye treatment plan.
- Having blurry vision, difficulty seeing at night or a sensitivity to light
- Having eyes that are scratchy or feel gritty when you blink
- Having red eyes or feeling like your eyes are burning
- Sudden intolerance to wearing contact lenses
Dry Eye Treatment
Dry eye treatment starts with a thorough diagnosis that includes an eye exam to test your eye health and visual acuity. Next, our Dr. Wittrock will measure the volume and quality of your tears. If there is a problem with your tear production or the composition of your basal tears, a dry eye treatment plan will be developed.
Creams, Eye Drops, and Ointments
For mild to moderate dry eye, our ophthalmologist may recommend eye drops, creams and/or ointments. Eye drops are typically used during the day to keep your eyes hydrated and to reduce symptoms. Creams and ointments are placed in the eyes at night to help keep your eyes hydrated while you sleep.
If you have one or more prescription or OTC medications that list dry eye as a side effect, our ophthalmologist may recommend talking to your family doctor about switching to medications that do not cause symptoms of dry eye.
Medications that Increase Tear Production
There are medications on the market that can increase your natural tear production. They can be prescribed as oral tablets or pills, eye drops, and creams.
Temporarily or Permanently Closing Your Tear Ducts
If creams, ointments, and switching medications doesn’t help alleviate your dry eye symptoms, our ophthalmologist may recommend inserting plugs into your tear ducts to close them. The first step usually involves inserting temporary tear duct plugs to see if this helps alleviate your symptoms. If it does, we may recommend permanent tear duct plugs.