There are effective treatments for dry eyes
Q: What is dry eye disease?
A: Dry eye disease, known as dry eye, is a common condition that occurs when the eye does not produce enough tears to properly lubricate itself. Symptoms include irritation, tearing, burning or stinging, a dry sensation, vision changes and contact-lens irritation.
Q: How common is it?
According to the National Health and Wellness Survey, 6.8% of the U.S. adult population has been diagnosed with dry eye disease.
The condition becomes more likely as people age: It’s found in just 2.7% of those 18 to 34 years old but in 18.6% of people who are 75 or older. It’s more common among women than men (8.8% of women have it compared to 4.5% of men).
Q: Why does dry eye occur?
A: There are many factors that can cause your eyes not to produce enough tears. Risk factors include age (older than 65); certain medications (more on this below); medical conditions including diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Sjogren’s Syndrome and allergies; eye issues such as long-term use of contacts or laser eye surgery; and environmental causes such as dry, windy or smoky air or staring at computer screens.
Q: Can medications cause dry eyes?
A: Yes! Prescription and over-the-counter medicines can cause dry eyes. Some common causes are antihistamines (Benadryl and Zyrtec, for example), anticholinergics (Cogentin and atropine are common), antidepressants, decongestants such as Sudafed, diuretics and blood pressure medicines such as hydrochlorothiazide (Microzide) or Lasix, and estrogen.
Q: What can I do to prevent or improve my dry eyes?
A: Doing these things can reduce dry eye: Limit screen time — cut down on time looking at computers, smartphones and TVs; wear sunglasses while outside; and avoid environmental causes (smoke, dust, air drafts).
If you are suffering from symptoms, warm compresses and supplementing your diet with Omega-3 fatty acids may be beneficial.
Q: What treatment options are available?
A: Artificial tears and nonmedicated ointments are a good first choice. Artificial tears are appropriate for daily, long term use (preservative-free preferred).
Refresh is a popular brand of moisturizing drops, sold as Refresh Tears Lubricant Eye Drops. Choose preservative-free if possible; many people find that formulation less irritating, but they are more expensive. They are recommended if using more than 4 to 6 times per day.
Gels and ointments may be used if drops do not provide enough relief, but they should be used at bedtime because they blur vision temporarily. Popular options for gels include Refresh PM and GenTeal Tears gel.
Q: How long does it take to notice improvement?
A: You should notice improvement in a few days, but it may take three to four weeks to notice a significant change in symptoms. If you are not seeing any relief after several weeks, make an appointment with your optometrist or ophthalmologist to be evaluated further.
Q: Can dry eyes be cured?
A: If dry eyes are caused by environmental factors or medications, they will most likely improve after changing the environment or adjusting the medication.
However, dry eye is typically chronic. For most people, over-the-counter treatments and changes in lifestyle can manage the symptoms effectively.
Jasmine Saei, Pharm.D., graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University School of Pharmacy in 2021. She received her Bachelor of Science in chemistry with a concentration in biochemistry from George Mason University. She is pursuing a career as a clinical pharmacist with areas of interest in informatics, infectious disease and internal medicine.