“Dry eye is a very common condition,” says Dr. Michael Kaplan, optometrist at The Eye Care Clinic in Toronto, Ontario. “I guess one of the big issues is that patients believe that a little bit of dry eye is normal but it’s not.”

Symptoms such as a sandy or gritty feeling in the lid, episodes of excess tears following very dry eye periods, a stinging or burning feeling in the eyes, eye fatigue and heavy eyelids, discomfort when wearing contact lenses, or occasional blurriness of vision can all indicate the presence of dry eye.

Connecting the symptoms to the condition

“It’s very prevalent and yet patients very often do not connect the symptoms they’re experiencing with dry eye disease,” says Dr. Kaplan.

Tears are composed of proteins, nutrients, electrolytes, and antibodies critical in maintaining the health of the eye surface and preventing infection. Dry eye occurs when the eye does not produce sufficient aqueous or when tears evaporate too quickly. If left untreated, this condition can lead to pain, styes, scars on the cornea, and can have a lasting effect on your vision.

In recent years, optometrists have made huge strides in their understanding and treatment of dry eye. There are two kinds of dry eye. Before starting any kind of treatment it is vital patients receive a proper diagnosis.

Aqueous tear-deficient dry eye is a disorder in which glands fail to produce enough of the watery ingredient in tears to maintain a healthy eye surface. Lipid-deficient dry eye occurs when there is an insufficient level of the oily component of tears that slows evaporation and keeps the tears stable. If you think you may be suffering with dry eye, the most important first step is to visit an optometrist.

Treat, educate, and heal

Optometrists will conduct a thorough eye examination and upon diagnosis will perform individualized treatments, educate patients on appropriate treatment, and recommend an ongoing care plan. Treatment can include applying warm compresses to heat and soften the glands and the use of lid wipes to clean away dead cells and oil build-up. Optometrists will also advise patients on the correct fatty acids to consume. Fatty acids such as omega-3 are unregulated in Canada and it can be very difficult for individuals to know the right kind to use to help treat dry eye. Your optometrist can help educate you and recommend an ongoing care plan.

“It’s like brushing your teeth. If you have plaque and you stop brushing your teeth you run the risk of getting gum disease and losing a tooth,” says Dr. Kaplan. “Likewise with dry eye, if you don’t treat the problem, you’re likely to develop a problem later on and the results can vary depending on how severe it is.”