Dry eyes that feel gritty and blurry, especially at the end of a long day of staring at the computer, will irritate most people and be life-altering for others.
Though the name ‘dry eye’ seems simple enough to understand, dry eye disease has many contributing factors that can lead to its classic symptoms. This article will discuss the ins and outs of dry eye and some common treatments for it.
We will also discuss the best contact lenses for dry eyes and patients who suffer from dry eye and some tips and tricks to reduce dry eye symptoms.
First, see the best contact lenses for dry eyes.
What is dry eye?
Dry eye disease is a condition where not enough tears are produced or the quality of the tears is low.
A smooth, healthy tear film is essential for the comfort of your eyes and their function. Because your cornea does not have blood vessels, it gets its nourishment from the tear film. The cornea is the clear front surface of the eye responsible for most of its focusing power. In addition to nourishing the cornea, tears also have immune properties and flush out harmful pathogens that may enter the eye.
Without proper tears, the eyes become dry, irritated, and blurry. This dryness is a symptom of the dysfunction of the cornea. Dry eyes can also put you at risk of infection due to the reduced protection from bacteria and other irritants.
An estimated 16-49 million US adults suffer from dry eye, and numbers are steadily increasing with the up kick in digital device use and an aging populace. Dry eye is most common in older adults; however, women and those with certain medical conditions are also at higher risk of having dry eye.
What the some symptoms of dry eye?
The most common symptoms of dry eye are eyes that feel gritty and irritated. But some more commonly overlooked symptoms include watery eyes, red eyes, blurry eyes, the sensation that there is something in the eyes, scratchy eyes, or a burning sensation in the eyes.
It can be counterintuitive that having watery eyes is a symptom of dry eyes, but the two conditions often go hand in hand. This is because the eye tries to compensate for dryness by overproducing tears. However, the underlying cause must be treated to fix the issue permanently.
It is vital to go to an eye care provider like an optometrist or ophthalmologist if you are experiencing these symptoms to rule out other causes of the irritation.
How are dry eyes diagnosed?
Your doctor will take a detailed history of your symptoms and medications. They will also inquire about any medical conditions or previous surgeries to check for any external factors contributing to dry eye.
They will then use a specialized microscope and a series of non-invasive tests to determine the volume of tears you produce and how quickly they stay on the surface of your eyes. Some doctors even have cameras that can take pictures of the tear-producing structures of your eyes and assess them for any damage.
What causes dry eyes?
There are many proposed causes for dry eyes, but they can generally be broken down into two categories: decreased tear production and reduced quality of tears.
It is important to note that our tears have three components: mucus, water, and oil. The oil component is produced by your meibomian glands, which are little glands that line the upper and lower eyelids.
The mucus portion of our tears anchors them to the surface of the eye, the water component is the most significant component of the tears, and the oily component prevents the tears from disappearing off the surface of the eye too quickly.
Blepharitis and meibomian gland dysfunction can also contribute to dry eyes.
Decreased tear production
This generally occurs due to age — as we get older, the number of tears we naturally produce decreases. However, this can also occur in people of all ages due to dysfunction in the glands that produce the watery component of tears.
Other reasons for decreased tear production are medications for high blood pressure, acne, depression, and other common disorders. In fact, it is thought that older adults are also more susceptible to dry eye because they are often on multiple medications.
Auto-immune disorders like lupus and Sjogren’s syndrome also cause a decrease in tear production. Sjogren’s-related dry eye can be especially devastating due to the drying of the body’s mucus membranes.
Changes in hormones and oral contraceptives can also cause dry eye disease, explaining the increased prevalence of dry eyes in women. Women are also more likely to have auto-immune disorders like those listed above.
Lastly, refractive surgeries like LASIK and PRK can decrease the number of tears your eyes produce due to reduced cornea sensitivity. Studies show that this occurs in roughly 5% of post-PRK patients and less than 1% of post-LASIK patients.
Poor tear quality
Tears full of debris like mucus and dust tend to poorly cover the eye’s surface, causing dry eye symptoms. Low-quality tears also tend to evaporate quickly from the eyes’ surface, contributing to uncomfortable symptoms.
Poor lid hygiene can impact the quality of your tears. So patients who don’t remove their makeup at night tend to have oily deposits in the tear film that disrupt its natural attributes.
Fans, computers, and dry eye – oh my!
Another external contributor to dry eye is environmental factors like fans and electronics use. For example, people who sleep or work under fans tend to experience dry eye symptoms more often due to the increased evaporation of the tears from the eye’s surface.
When we use electronics, we blink significantly less. Blinking is essential for maintaining the ocular surface because it re-distributes the tear film and aids in the drainage of old tears. Unfortunately, a reduced blink rate means more poor-quality tears sticking around.
How is dry eye treated?
Dry eye treatment can range from simple interventions like eye drops to more complex treatments like specialty contact lenses and laser procedures.
Dry eye clinics worldwide have their own treatment methods, but we will briefly discuss some of the more common ones starting with the least to the most complex.
Since some environmental factors can increase dry eye, your doctor may recommend some simple changes you can implement at home. These include: drinking more water, reducing caffeine intake, reducing smoke exposure, taking more blinks at the computer, avoiding sleeping under a fan, adding a humidifier, and getting more sleep.
These eye drops are meant to mimic the natural tear composition to promote a full and healthy tear film. It is essential to look for artificial tears that are labeled as preservative-free–this means that they don’t have extra chemicals added to make them last longer. These chemicals often exacerbate dry eye symptoms, which is why they should be avoided.
A newer artificial tear treatment used by specialty clinics is called autologous tears. These are tears created using the patient’s blood plasma to provide a unique match to the patient’s natural tear film. Your doctor may suggest these if over-the-counter artificial tears have failed.
Bacteria and buildup on the eyelashes can often lead to a poor tear film. Using lid scrubs like OcuSoft can reduce the load of bacteria on the lashes. These scrubs are meant to be used nightly and can be purchased over the counter.
These are small collagen or silicone plugs placed in the tear drainage system of the eye. This increases the amount of time that the tears stay on the surface of the eye. Your eye doctor will place these plugs in a quick and painless procedure in the office.
If more traditional treatments have failed, your doctor can prescribe eye drops that help increase the production of tears. The more commonly used drops are called Restasis or Xiidra, though other drops are on the market. These may take 4-6 weeks for full efficacy and are only available by prescription.
Scleral contact lenses are large-diameter hard contact lenses filled with a saline solution usually reserved for patients with unusually shaped corneas. However, in severe cases of dry eye, sclerals can be used as a treatment that brings comfort and clearer vision to a patient.
Though there is no “permanent” cure for dry eye, most patients will achieve comfort and freedom from symptoms if they maintain their treatment.
IPL (Intense Pulsed Light) Laser Treatment
According to Mayo Clinic’s Dr. Shen., “IPL treatment for meibomian gland dysfunction can improve dry eye symptoms and is a reasonable option for patients who have not shown improvement with other therapies.”
What are the best contact lenses for dry eyes?
Soft contact lens wearers are at an increased risk of dry eye symptoms due to the relatively poor flow of tears and oxygen that pass through the contact lenses.
If you wear contact lenses and suffer from dry eye, consider switching to a daily disposable lens. These are thinner, and because they are more hygienic, there is a reduced risk of dry eye symptoms.
One of the best contact lenses for this is Dailies Total 1. It has high oxygen exchange and is comfortable. Quickly compare prices online using our contact lens price match tool. Other great lenses are Acuvue Oasys 1 Day and Bausch + Lomb Infuse. Both are high-end daily disposable contact lenses.
You can view our list of the top 10 contact lenses for dry eyes to see a full list of awesome contact lenses.
In conclusion, dry eye is a complex disease with many factors contributing to its symptoms. If you are concerned about dry eye, it is vital to make an appointment with your eye doctor to get proper treatment and rule out any other issues. There is a path to freedom from dry eye symptoms with consistent treatment.
Camilo is the founder of Contacts Compare and is a contact lens enthusiast who has been buying, shopping, and comparing contact lenses for over 12 years. He started Contacts Compare because it was nearly impossible to compare prices quickly to make sure he was getting the best price possible. He holds degrees from Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania. His favorite contact lens is Acuvue Oasys 1-Day with Hydraluxe.