Dry Eye is a multifactorial disease of the tears and ocular surface resulting in tear film instability that causes symptoms of discomfort, burning, stinging, grittiness, foreign body sensation, tearing, ocular fatigue and dryness. Dry eyes occur as a result of inadequate amount of tears, poor tear quality or a combination of both.
Prevalence rates of dry eyes can be as high as 33%. Risk factors include advanced age, gender (females have a greater risk of dry eyes), smoking, extreme climates, low relative humidity, medications, medical conditions, contact lens wear and computer use.
Optometrists can help diagnose and treat the condition effectively through comprehensive eye examinations. This starts with a thorough case history that lets us identify the symptoms along with the risk factors present. External examination of the eyes and lids then allows us to determine presence of structural problems, quantity and quality of the tear film and the blink dynamics.
Chronic dry eyes can be treated with a variety of different methods. Artificial tears and punctal plugs can help supplement natural tears and help in the retention of tears already produced, but they only treat the symptoms of dry eyes. Immune modulating medications such as Restasis and Xiidra can help decrease the inflammatory nature of the disease and increase the eyes’ natural tear production. We must also manage eyelid problems that contribute to dry eyes through the use of lid hygiene techniques and/or medications. Addressing environmental factors such as placement of air vents and humidity is beneficial. Education regarding the impact of diet and smoking habits is an important component to this discussion. Finally, addressing systemic etiologies (with primary care providers) allows us to be more complete in dry eye management.
The first step in treating dry eye is encouraging patients to schedule annual eye exams. The more we know about our patients’ eye health over time, the better we can narrow down the causes and potential treatments for dry eye. Think About Your Eyes is a great resource capable of reinforcing the importance of annual comprehensive eye examinations after we have educated our patients about this fact.
Combining our efforts of educating patients along with the advertising the Think About Your Eyes campaign provides means we can improve the quality of life of our patients by addressing the etiology of dry eyes and offering treatment recommendations.
Christopher J. Babin, OD, and Charlene Walton, OD, are members of Optometric Physicians of Washington and among the 18,000 doctors listed on the Think About Your Eyes online locator. Think About Your Eyes is a nationwide public awareness initiative promoting the importance of an annual eye exam and overall vision health. First Vision Media Group (publisher of Optometric Office) supports Think About Your Eyes as a media partner and provides space for this monthly Guest Editorial.