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Published on March 22, 2018

eye drops

What’s Behind Those Dry Eyes?

Our eyes face many microscopic threats from both the environment and from our own internal body chemistry.

Sometimes the threats can lead us to feel a broad range of symptoms from a mild irritation to watery eyes to feeling like great grains of sand are wedged between our lids.

Dry eye syndrome, or Ocular Surface Disease, can stem from a variety of roots, and while it may seem like a ho-hum issue or just a minor nuisance, it can lead to constant aggravation and even lost time from work when it gets out of hand.

“Dry eyes can stem from issues in our tear film, which actually contains three layers: oil, water and mucous. In addition, it can come from inflammation, surface tissue damage, or low-grade, chronic infection around the eyelashes as well,” said Gregory Hill, OD, Avera Medical Group Eye Care Optometrist. “The symptoms are often dry, burning eyes or, surprisingly, overly watery eyes, which is a sign your eyes are reflexively fighting back against the cause.”

Pick the Right Product

One key piece of advice is to avoid using certain products that claim to help but when used regularly can actually create problems, he said.

“There are good artificial tear products on the market, but they are found on the same shelf with many other products that offer to remove redness or irritation, which I would never recommend using,” he said. “Those products work by narrowing tiny blood vessels in the eyes, which make your eyes look better without helping the root cause, and over long-term use can lead to damage.”

So remember: no red-out products. For your first line of treatment, just seek out artificial tear products, and use them as directed, as much as four times a day, not just at those moments when eyes feel dry, Hill said.

Might Seem Mild, But ...

Dry-eye problems are sneaky. Some serious situations may come across as minor.

“Some folks feel like something is really wrong but it’s a modest case,” Hill said. “The opposite is also true. People will come in thinking it’s nothing big, but it’s a serious case of chronic infection or surface damage.”

Hence the necessity to be evaluated by an eye doctor, Hill added. When patients come in, Hill or his colleague, Paul Draayer, OD, Avera Medical Group Eye Care Optometrist, use their experience and equipment (like bio-microscope examination and specialized tests) to get to the facts, and help you get back to eyes that are no longer irritated.

“There are also several types of prescription drops that can help with dry eye symptoms, and there are also hot compresses we can use when the eye’s oil ducts are congested,” Hill said. “We encourage people to avoid rubbing your eyes, because that can cause micro-traumas that over time can lead to serious vision issues.”

He said people in many professions – farmers concentrating on planting and harvests, truckers and other drivers concentrating on the road, computer and academic professionals staring at monitors for hours daily – can face higher occurrences of dry-eye syndrome.

“Many of us can get in a habit of rarely blinking when we are concentrating intently on a task at hand, so one way to avoid dry eye issues is to blink deliberately – often,” said Hill. “It’s a simple but easily forgotten method to help avoid problems.”

Steps That Help

While it’s not fun to think about, we all have microscopic critters living on our skin and around our eyelashes. Low populations of these critters are fine, but when the population gets too high, it can lead to crusty build-up.

“Sometimes it’s necessary to treat the eye and eyelid with some astringents or ointment to get the proper health back in place in the eye,” Hill said. “Clusters of dead surface cells from damaged tissue also can start a vicious circle of inflammation that leads to dryness, damage, and recurring inflammation.”

Drinking more water, avoiding drafts from nighttime fans and watching what you eat can all help keep dry eyes at bay. Alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco are culprits in the condition, too.

“Ignoring it can lead to problems, and if you use artificial tears and your eyes are still dry, please get an appointment with an eye doctor,” said Hill. “Those bigger problems also have tougher solutions, so timing with dry eyes, like many health challenges, is vital.”

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