Our eyes are kept moist by tears. When your tear ducts aren’t producing enough liquid—or if your tears are evaporating too quickly—you may get the feeling of dry eyes. It can be annoying, painful and potentially itchy. For some, dry eye syndrome can be solved in a relatively short amount of time; for others, however, it may present permanent problems that will require additional medical attention.
What causes dry eyes?
Your eyes could be dry because of a number of environmental issues, such as dry air, wind or dust. Alternatively, dry eyes could be due to a physical issue caused by your body’s inability to produce enough tears. This could be the result of:
– The ageing process, especially menopause.
– Side effects of antihistamines.
– Diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.
– A problem with blinking or the eyelid not closing as it should.
The first step to treating dry eyes is to determine what is causing the problem. Is this an occasional complaint or a regular occurrence? Eye drops that mimic tears should provide you with temporary relief, but establishing whether the problem is caused by external factors or a physical disorder will help you in the long-term.
If the problem is external it may be a case of stopping smoking, or getting an air humidifier to make sure the air in your house is moist enough. The heater you use may be drying out the air—stop using it for a while to see if the problem resolves itself.
A doctor will be able to tell you if the cause is an issue with your body and will prescribe a solution suitable for you. This could come in the form of eye drops to encourage natural tear production, steroid eye drops or testosterone cream.
There are also surgical options available. Your doctor may choose to block the punctum—the duct that drains tears from the eyes. They can do this with a temporary dissolvable plug, a more permanent non-dissolvable plug or by cauterising the duct so that it closes up.
You may decide to treat dry eyes yourself at home—you can try the following:
A warm compress. Take a soft flannel or eye pad and soak it in hot water. The water itself will need to have been boiled before cooling at room temperature to a level you can handle. Place it over your eyes for 10 minutes, reheating the flannel in the water whenever it gets cold. This will warm the oils in your eyes and cause them to become more lubricated.
Eyewear. You may want to consider investing in some protective eyewear. This could be wrap-around glasses to wear during the day to protect your eyes, or goggles to wear at night that trap moisture.
Eye massage. Perform an eye massage whenever your eyes feel overly strained or dry. You can do this by gently massaging your closed eyelids with one finger, or by taking a cotton bud and rolling it down the eyelid towards the eyelashes to oil out the glands.
Diet. Research has found that omega 3 may benefit our eyes. The best way to get this vital compound is by eating oily fish or taking supplements.