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Eye Specialists of Westchester

Office (914) 235-9500
Optical (914) 235-8262

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Dry Eye

Dry eye is one of the most common eye conditions. Normally, the eye constantly produces tears. This is at a slow and steady rate and the eye stays comfortably moist. Sometimes not enough tears are produced to keep the eyes healthy and comfortable. This condition is known as dry eye.

Symptoms

The usual symptoms of dry eye include:

  • stinging or burning eyes;
  • scratchiness;
  • stringy mucus in or around the eyes;
  • excessive eye irritation from smoke or wind;
  • excess tearing;
  • discomfort wearing contact lenses

Causes

The eye has a tear film which coats the outer layer of the eye. This tear film is very important for the lubrication and comfort of the eye as well as for the clarity of vision. As we age, tear production normally decreases and this protective tear film changes and diminishes, leaving the eye more exposed to the drying effects of the air, wind and dust. Dry eye can occur in both men and women at any age, but women are most often affected. This is especially true after menopause. Dry eye is also associated with other medical problems such as Sjogren’s syndrome (patients with dry eyes, dry mouth and arthritis.) Tear secretion is reduced by certain medications, both prescription and non-prescription. If you are taking any of the following medications, it is important to tell your doctor, as they may affect your tear secretion:

  • diuretics for high blood pressure;
  • beta-blockers for heart or high blood pressure;
  • antihistamines for allergies;
  • sleeping pills;
  • medications for “nerves”, or
  • pain relievers

These medications are often necessary, and dry eye may have to be tolerated or treated with eyedrops called artificial tears.

Diagnosis

Dr. Scharf or Dr. Donev will be able to diagnose dry eye by examination of the eyes. Tests that measure tear production may be necessary. One test, called the Shirmer tear test, involves placing filter-paper strips under the lower eyelids to measure the rate of tear production under various conditions. Another test uses diagnostic drops to look for certain patterns of dryness on the surface of the eyes.

Treatment

The treatment of dry eye may be the use of artificial tears. These are similar to your own tears. They lubricate the eyes and help maintain moisture. Artificial tears are available without a prescription. For those patients who are sensitive to the preservatives in artificial tears, preservative-free eyedrops are also available. If it is necessary for you to use artificial tears more than four times per day, we recommend that you use preservative-free eyedrops. You may use the preservative-free artificial tears as often as necessary.

Another treatment of dry eye may be conserving your eyes’ own tears. Tears drain out of the eye through a small channel into the nose (which is why your nose runs when you cry). The doctor may close these channels either temporarily or permanently to conserve your own tears. This also makes the artificial tears last longer.

Tears evaporate like any other liquid. You can take steps to prevent evaporation. A person with dry eye should avoid anything that cause dryness, such as an overly warm room, hair dryers, or wind. Wrap-around glasses may reduce the drying effect of the wind. Smoking is especially bothersome to the eyes.

Some people with dry eye complain of “scratchy eyes” when they wake up. This symptom can be treated by using artificial tear ointment or thick eyedrops at bedtime. Some people find relief by supplementing their diets with omega-3 fatty acids, which are found naturally in foods like oily fish (salmon, sardines, anchioves) and flax seeds. Ask Dr. Scharf or Dr. Donev if they recommend that you incorporate oral supplements of omega-3 fatty acids into your dry eye treatment regimen.

If other methods do not give you adequate relief from dry eye, Dr. Scharf or Dr. Donev may suggest that you use a prescription medication. One such medication, cyclosporine (Restasis), works to resolve your symptoms by stimulating tear production. Steroid eyedrops may also be used but are not recommended for long-term treatment.