Do your eyes sting, itch, or produce stringy discharge? Perhaps you feel like you're always blinking sand out of your eyes. If these problems sound familiar, you may be one of the many sufferers of dry eye.
THE CAUSES OF DRY EYE
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Dry eye is a common eye health complaint that causes mild to severe discomfort. A number of factors contribute to dry eye. The causes we list below are some of the most common, but by no means the only culprits.
- Medications - Certain medications, from blood pressure medications to antidepressants, can cause dry eye.
- Eye Health Issues - Eye problems, from gland issues to inflammation, can cause dry eye.
- Hormonal Changes - Women who are pregnant, or women who take estrogen during menopause, are more likely to develop dry eye. Adding progesterone to the estrogen during menopause decreases the likelihood.
- Medical Problems - Diabetics, people with rheumatoid arthritis, and those with thyroid problems are likely to suffer from dry eyes.
- External Factors - If you spend a lot of time staring at a computer or a TV screen, you're more likely to develop dry eyes. Contact lens wearers sometimes lose sensation in the corneas, which leads to dry eyes. You can also develop dry eye as a result of allergies.
DIAGNOSING DRY EYE
Dry eye sufferers often experience pain, blurry vision, stinging in the eye, and gritty sensations when blinking. Only an eye doctor can diagnose dry eye, so the first step towards a diagnosis is visiting your eye care professional. Your doctor will perform an eye exam and can do several specific tests as well. The Schirmer test measures how many tears your eyes produce. Several tests also measure tear quality, which takes into account how quickly your tears evaporate and how well they spread across your entire eye.
TREATING DRY EYE
Thankfully, treating dry eye is often simple and requires no more than over-the-counter eye drops. Ask your eye doctor to recommend a brand; the office may even offer you a sample or two. If over-the-counter drops don't work, you may need a prescription of cyclosporine, an eye medication which helps corneal damage and increases tear production. If your eyelids are swollen, your doctor may prescribe a corticosteroid. When the problem is your contacts, your doctor may switch you to a new brand or advise you to decrease or cease lens wear. Temporary plugs in the holes that drain tears from the eyes to the nose are another option. In some cases, an eye disease is the cause of dry eye. If you haven't been diagnosed with a disease like gland dysfunction but display symptoms, your eye doctor will test you for the disease. Treatment for the disease may alleviate your dry eye. A visit to the eye doctor is the only way to ensure your eyes are healthy, but in cases of temporary dry eye, over-the-counter drops are often sufficient to solve the problem. If your dry eye persists, make an appointment.