The dry summer heat is here, and so is that dry-eye feeling. Maybe you know what we mean: eyes that are red or bloodshot, irritated and itchy, gritty or sandy, or you’ve got that pesky sensation that you’ve got something on the surface of your eye.
Of course, dry eyes aren’t limited to this time of year. You may experience dry eyes seasonally or year-round. If you’re one of the 48% of adults in the United States who experience the discomfort of dry eyes, keep reading to get Dr. Carlsson’s recommendations for improving the condition.
First, what is dry eye?
“Dry eye is usually the result of chronic inflammation—the constant dysfunction of the eyes not producing enough tears,” Dr. Carlsson explains. To understand how our eyes might get to that level of constant dysfunction, we first need a basic understanding of the anatomy that causes tears.
The “tear film” on your eye is composed of three layers, and each layer plays an important part in producing enough tears and keeping your eyes healthy:
- The lipid layer is the fatty, outer layer. Oils are secreted from the meibomian glands along the margins of your eyelids, preventing water from the aqueous layer from evaporating too quickly, as well as protecting the eye from outsiders, like dust and pollen. Meibomian gland dysfunction is usually the main culprit behind dry eye.
- The aqueous layer is located just behind your upper brow, and every time you blink, a bit of this layer is secreted by the lacrimal glands. Your eyelids spread it across your eye, much like a windshield wiper.
- The mucin layer is the inner layer, closest to the cornea. It’s made up of proteins that help the tears adhere to and evenly coat your cornea.
So, what causes dry eye?
Dry eye is often a combination of aging and environmental factors leading to reduced function in the tear film layers.
- Aging: Like anything else, our cells don’t always perform at the same level as they age. This is mainly an issue for women, since testosterone is the hormone responsible for stimulating tear production. Twice as many women as men report experiencing dry eyes.
- Environmental causes: Everything from allergies (which are often treated by drying antihistamines) to poor air quality to staring at a screen for much of the day can lead to dry eye syndrome. Even wearing contact lenses can exacerbate dry eyes.
What are the best remedies for dry eye?
Although there are medical interventions for dry eye (such as prescription drugs and procedures for lipiflow and punctal plugs), Dr. Carlsson’s favorite fix is one that is both natural and cost-effective: good quality omega-3 fish oils. Because virtually all our cells depend on omega-3s, a good quality supplement (look for 1700mg of EPA) can be beneficial not just for our eyes, but for our heart, skin, brain and hair health.
The EPA calms the inflammation to help the meibomian glands produce better oils that “are more like baby oil than tapioca pudding,” Dr. Carlsson says.
Another, more natural approach is to use eyelid wipes containing a touch of tea tree oil to keep the eyelid area clean and healthy.
Are there ever serious concerns with dry eyes?
The surface of your eyes can become damaged from a lack of tears—”basically developing all these mini potholes on your cornea,” Dr. Carlsson explains. That damage can ultimately lead to sight-threatening conditions.
If you have chronic pain or discomfort, such as a burning, sandy or gritty sensation, or your eyes are constantly bloodshot, it’s time to see a specialist.
Do you have dry eye that just won’t go away? We’d love to help! Call us to schedule an appointment today.