Almost everyone experiences dry eyes sometimes, especially during colder, drier months. Spring also has its share of dry eye symptoms, when seasonal allergies kick in, and prompt the urge to rub eyes for relief. (That only makes dry eyes worse!) Computer users deal with dry eyes almost daily — especially when they don’t blink for longer periods of time, or break free from their screens!
Blinking spreads a film of tears over the eyes to keep eyeballs clear and smooth. The three layers of tear film are made up of an outside oily layer (that keeps tears from drying too quickly), a middle watery layer (that makes most of our tears, and washes away unwanted particles), plus an inner mucus layer (that helps spread the watery layer over the eyes). The mucus layer is made in the conjunctiva (the clear tissue that covers the whites of the eyes and inside of eyelids; it’s the tissue that can get infected, resulting in conjunctivitis or “pink eye”).
Normally, our eyes continually make tears to stay moist (especially when we cry, or when eyes get irritated). But when eyes don’t produce enough tears, or something affects one or more of the three tear film layers, dry eye happens. Both men and women can suffer from dry eyes; we produce fewer tears as we age. Dry eyes are also more common in women after menopause.
If you feel burning, irritation, stinging, or a gritty feeling (like “sandpaper”); an excess of mucus (a thick, yellowish substance); more tears (the eye’s way of pushing something in the eye away); or pain while wearing contact lenses:
- See your eye doctor for an exam! Say what prescription and over-the-counter meds you’re currently taking. (Allergy, anti-anxiety, blood pressure, sleeping meds, and others can dry out eyes.)
- Remove your contacts; wear glasses until your eyes feel better.
- Take breaks from the computer screen. Blink often. Look away every 10 minutes.
- Don’t smoke (stay away from those who do).
- Avoid wind and irritants, plus very warm or dry rooms (add a humidifier).
- Wear sunglasses for protection.
- Use preservative-free “artificial tear” eye drops during the day. (Try a thicker eye gel at bedtime).
- Try soothing, warm compresses (a washcloth with warm water to place on your closed lids).
- Keep the hair dryer away from your eyes.
- Add omega-3 fatty acids to your diet (try anchovies, salmon, sardines, trout, tuna, fish oil supplements, or ground flax seeds).
By Lisa Miceli Feliciano
Sources include: www.aao.org