Q: My eyes get really dry and irritated at this time of year. What gives?
The Optometrist Says…
This sounds like dry eye syndrome. One possible factor is inflammation, which can lead the tear-producing glands in the eyelids to malfunction, resulting in dryness. Inflammation in the body can be caused by a number of things, from lack of sleep to poor diet to chronic irritation from dust or paint fumes that eventually damages the delicate glands in the lids.
Another possible cause of dry eye is an imbalance in the layers of tears. There are three components to tears – the water layer that hydrates the surface of the cornea, the mucous layer that provides nutrition to the cornea, and the oil layer that keeps the tears from evaporating – and if these are disturbed, the result is dry eye. There are a number of environmental causes, too, including seasonal changes, which can cause irritation due to cooler temperatures, and dry air once the furnace turns on.
With mild cases, over-the-counter eye drops and lubricants can be helpful, but if you’re using them more than four times a day for an extended period of time, this is a sign that the condition is becoming more severe and should be discussed with your eye doctor. You can try applying heat to the lids every evening, which can be done with a hot washcloth covering the eyes for about five minutes. Heat opens blocked glands in the lid, restoring the natural balance of tears.
If you have exhausted all over-the-counter and home remedies and are still suffering from the condition, it’s time to see your eye doctor to rule out possible diseases and disorders, including arthritis, Sjögren’s syndrome and thyroid disorders, which may require additional therapy. Whatever you do, don’t ignore the problem, as severe dry eye can threaten your vision in the long run.
Dr. Harvey Bass is an optometrist in Grand Falls, NB
The Holistic Nutritionist Says…
Dry eye syndrome is a common condition that occurs when tears aren’t able to provide adequate lubrication for the eyes. Environmental conditions like dry indoor air can be a factor, as well as many other circumstances, such as the natural aging process, the side effects of certain medications and poor nutrition.
Diet can play a huge role in the treatment and prevention of dry eye. Foods that are rich in essential fatty acids, such as evening primrose oil, oils made from corn and soybeans, fatty fish (such as salmon, sardines and herring) and flaxseed, help restore the lipid layer of the eye and prevent tears from evaporating quickly. Drinking an adequate amount of water – about eight to 10 glasses a day – is essential, too. Dry eye sufferers can also benefit from taking a glucosamine sulfate supplement. For most people, taking 500 milligrams three times a day will help build up the cornea and prevent corneal damage related to dryness (but talk to your doctor or nutritionist first to ensure that this dosage is right for you).
To treat an ongoing problem, it’s important to avoid known irritants, such as smoking and staring at computer screens for extended periods (use the 20/20/20 rule and look out a window or across the room – 20 metres away – for 20 seconds every 20 minutes to give your eyes a break, and blink often!), and prevent sun damage by wearing sunglasses outdoors. Getting regular sleep is also key, as it gives your eyes the rest they need and your body a chance to repair and detoxify, which in turn helps reduce inflammation.
Jennifer Perry is a registered holistic nutritionist in Halifax