Don’t ignore the symptoms 

The early stages of dry eye disease can often be misleading and those affected commonly put the symptoms down to an issue with their contact lenses or a prolonged period of staring at a computer screen; they don’t realize they’re suffering with dry eye.

“The major things that people with dry eye complain about are the discomfort, irritation, grittiness, and fluctuating vision,” says Dr. W. Bruce Jackson, Professor of Ophthalmology at the University of Ottawa Eye Institute, The Ottawa Hospital.

In some cases, people affected can’t read as much as they’d like, they can’t work on a computer for more than just a few minutes, and going outside in windy conditions can cause their eyes to dry out. “It really can affect quality of life,” says Dr. Jackson. 

Causes and risk factors

Experts are not completely sure what causes dry eye, but the underlying mechanism seems to be an immune process which is triggered by the production of unstable tears and dry spots forming on the cornea. “There is a vicious cycle of the eye becoming drier, the surface becoming more damaged and then inflammation, which cuts down tear production and reduces corneal sensitivity,” explains Dr. Jackson.

“The major things that people with dry eye complain about are the discomfort, irritation, grittiness, and fluctuating vision.”

There are also many risk factors. Patients affected are frequently perimenopausal women, but those with a thyroid disorder, diabetes, glaucoma, or have had refractive or ocular surgery are more likely to develop dry eye disease. People who smoke or are on multiple medications, including antidepressants or antihistamines,  are also at a higher risk of being affected.

Effective treatments and management

There is currently no known cure, but don’t be anxious: there are a number of treatments available to effectively combat dry eye disease. “Artificial tear drops, gels, and ointments are all available over the counter,” says Dr. Jackson. “We’ve got a much better selection of treatments than we had five years ago.” If you’ve tried over the counter options and are still suffering, an ophthalmologist can prescribe or recommend a different type of treatment that’s targeted to your specific situation.

Modifying lifestyle can also play an important role in tackling dry eye, explains Dr. Jackson. “If you’ve got allergies, control them and if you’re in a very dry office, get a humidifier,” he says. “Also, try to control medications that might aggravate dry eye. Even changing diet to get more omega-3s can make a difference.”