Dry Eye Treatment in Wilmington
Everyone’s eyes occasionally feel dry or irritated. Unfortunately for some, the symptoms of dry eye are chronic and so severe that they begin to interfere with vision and quality of life. Dry eye syndrome occurs when the eyes chronically lack the lubrication needed to stay sufficiently moisturized. The condition can cause uncomfortable symptoms like burning, itching or watery eyes, sensitivity to light, a scratchy or “foreign body” sensation in the eyes and discomfort wearing contact lenses. Dry eye can happen for a variety of reasons but can be managed and controlled with the expertise of our Wilmington ophthalmologist Dr. Gregory Johnson and optometrist Dr. Gail Kelley.
What Causes Dry Eyes?
Healthy eyes are bathed in a layer of tears at all times; the tears help the eyes stay moisturized and function optimally. A healthy tear film is comprised of three layers: oil, water and mucous layers. If the tear composition lacks one of these critical components, the imbalance can cause problems that lead to dry eye.
A good example of this scenario is meibomian gland dysfunction. These glands are responsible for producing the oily layer of the tear film. If the glands malfunction for any reason, the tear film lacks the oily layer it needs. What can happen is that the tears evaporate off of the eyes’ surface too quickly, and thus fail to keep the eyes sufficiently lubricated.
Another scenario that commonly causes dry eye syndrome is the malfunction of the lacrimal glands, which produce the watery component of the tear film. In this case, the tear film lacks the watery fluid it needs to moisturize the eyes.
In addition to meibomian and lacrimal gland dysfunction, there are a variety of factors that can lead to dry eye syndrome. These include the following:
- Prolonged computer use
- The effects of the aging process
- Environmental factors like dry, windy or arid climates
- Certain autoimmune disorders and other systemic diseases
- Certain medications (e.g., antihistamines, antidepressants, birth control pills)
When Dr. Johnson or Dr. Kelley meet a patient that is experiencing dry eye symptoms, it’s critical for them to determine the root cause of the problem, as that often dictates how they treat the issue.
Treatments for Dry Eyes
Often the first line of defense against dry eyes is the use of artificial tears and prescription eyedrops. Artificial tears supplement natural tear production, and medicated eyedrops can help the eyes produce more tears.
Other treatments are designed to conserve tears by blocking the tiny tear ducts, which forces the tears to stay in the eyes longer. Tiny plugs can be inserted into the tear ducts or surgery can be performed to permanently close the tear ducts.
Many cases of dry eye respond very well to a treatment called LipiFlow. This treatment restores optimal function to malfunctioning meibomian glands. The glands are gently warmed and stimulated to produce the oily layer for the tear film. We have had tremendous success with LipiFlow for the treatment of dry eye and perform the procedure on a regular basis.
Dr. Johnson and Dr. Kelley work with all of our dry eye patients to find the solution best suited to their individual circumstances. We can also recommend lifestyle tweaks to reduce the uncomfortable symptoms of dry eyes, including increasing humidity at home or work, taking nutritional supplements or switching a medication.
Frequently Asked Questions About Dry Eye Disease
What are the symptoms of dry eye disease?
The symptoms of dry eye disease can include the following:
- burning, itchy or irritated eyes
- eye redness
- sensitivity to light
- “foreign body sensation” – i.e., the sensation that a piece of dust or debris is stuck in your eye
- blurry vision
- watery eyes
- eye fatigue
Am I at risk of dry eye disease?
Factors that can increase the risk of getting dry eye disease include:
- advancing age – over the age of 50
- certain medications – e.g., antihistamines, decongestants, oral contraceptives, hormone replacement therapy
- certain medical conditions – e.g., diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis
- prolonged computer use
- exposure to dry, windy or smoky air
- history of laser eye surgery
What is meibomian gland dysfunction?
A significant number of cases of dry eye disease are due to meibomian gland dysfunction. The meibomian glands are tiny glands in the eyelids that produce and secrete oils into the tear film. The oils help the tears “stick” to the surface of the eyes so they stay properly lubricated.
Sometimes the meibomian glands can become blocked or clogged with hardened oils. Without the oily layer of the tear film, the tears evaporate off the surface of the eyes too quickly and the eyes develop dry eye symptoms.
How is dry eye disease diagnosed?
Dry eye disease is diagnosed through a comprehensive eye exam. You will be asked about your eye health history, medical history and any medications you take that could contribute to your symptoms. A careful exam and diagnostic testing can help reveal the extent and source of the dry eye.
What treatments are available for dry eye disease?
The treatment recommended for your case depends on the cause and severity of your condition. Options include the following:
- Artificial tears: over-the-counter moisturizers can supplement natural tear production
- Prescription eyedrops: there are several medicated drops currently available which actually help to improve the quality of your own tears. These generally work by reducing inflammation, which can be a major factor in dry eye.
- Punctal plugs: tiny plugs that block the tear ducts to help the tears to stay in the eyes longer
- Surgery: permanently closes the tear ducts
- LipiFlow: the meibomian glands are gently warmed and massaged to melt and express hardened oil from the glands
Is there anything I can do on my own to reduce dry eye symptoms?
You can make some simple lifestyle tweaks to minimize your symptoms. For instance, you may want to do the following:
- Reduce your screen time or take frequent breaks from computer work. Use the 20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, give your eyes a 20-second rest by closing them, looking away from your computer or reading material and blinking intentionally four or five times.
- Stop taking or adjust the dosage of medications known to cause dry eye (talk to your doctor first).
- Drink more water.
- Wear quality sunglasses outside in dry, windy or smoky environments; wraparound styles help protect your eyes from dust and debris.
- Increase the humidity inside your home using a humidifier.
- Focus on blinking more throughout the day.
- Add omega-3 fatty acids to your diet (found in foods like salmon, sardines and flaxseed).
- Apply warm compresses to closed eyelids to help maintain the flow of healthy oils.
Contact Intracoastal Eye
For more information about dry eye syndrome, please contact Intracoastal Eye today.