What are dry eyes?
Dry eyes occur when your tear glands don’t produce enough tears to lubricate your eyes. This condition can be uncomfortable and painful. It can be caused by both medical and environmental factors.
What is dry eye syndrome?
Dry eye syndrome is a general term used to describe dry eyes caused by either poor quality tears or diminished tear production. The symptoms include:
- scratchy, dry, and painful sensation in both of your eyes
- feeling like something is in your eyes
- mucus in or around your eyes
- light sensitivity
- fatigued eyes
- blurred vision
There are a number of factors that can cause dry eyes. These include:
- certain medications
- certain medical conditions
- environmental factors
Change your environment
Environmental factors are a common cause of dry eyes. Avoid cigarette smoke, and stay indoors when it’s windy.
Use appropriate eyewear to protect your eyes from wind when engaging in activities such as riding a bike or motorcycle, skiing, or riding in a convertible.
It may also be helpful to get a humidifier for your home to add moisture to the air.
Supplement your diet with fatty acids
Research indicates that eating more omega-3 fatty acids may relieve the symptoms of dry eyes. This fat is known to reduce inflammation in the body. It may help relieve dry eyes by reducing eye inflammation, allowing for more tear production and higher quality tears.
You can use omega-3 supplements, or eat more foods rich in this nutrient, such as:
- ground flaxseed and flaxseed oil
- palm oil
- soybean oil
- chia seeds
- fatty fish, including salmon, tuna, sardines, and mackerel
- eggs that have been supplemented with omega-3 fats
Try drops or ointments
There are a number of nonprescription products for dry eyes that may bring you relief. Eye drops, or artificial tears, can bring you temporary relief. Keep in mind that some eye drops contain preservatives.
These usually come in multidose vials and contain preservatives to prevent bacterial growth once a vial is opened. If your eyes react badly to drops with preservatives, or if you apply eye drops more than four times a day, you should use preservative-free drops. Preservative-free drops usually come in single dose vials.
Ointments are thicker than drops and are designed to coat the eyeball and provide longer-term relief from dryness.
However, ointments can impair your vision while you’re using them. It’s best to use them before bedtime and stick to drops during the day.
When to see your doctor for dry eyes
If these remedies don’t bring you relief, or if you think you have a more serious condition causing your dry eyes, it’s time to see your doctor. Here are some symptoms that should prompt you to call your doctor for an appointment:
- redness and swelling
- pain beyond mild irritation
- an eye injury
- flaking or discharge from the eye
- joint pain, swelling, and stiffness
- dry mouth
- continued dryness after a few days of self-care
Dry eyes are usually temporary, and are a natural part of aging for most people. But in some cases, the condition is caused by something more serious. Try home care for relief and see your doctor if needed.
How to prevent dry eyes
Besides using eye drops or ointment, there are several simple ways to help prevent dry eyes. These include:
Avoid places with a lot of air movement
This means limiting your exposure to fans and hair dryers, and by wearing wraparound sunglasses when outside on windy days to protect your eyes from drying out.
Turn on a humidifier in the wintertime
Home heating systems can cause the air in your home to dry out, and dry out your eyes. But using a humidifier can help the air stay moist. If you don’t have a humidifier, you can put a pan of water on your radiator to add water into the air.
Rest your eyes
Frequent reading, TV watching, and computer use can dry out your eyes, so it’s important to take breaks so your eyes can regain some of their moisture.
Stay away from cigarette smoke
Cigarette smoke can irritate dry eyes and increase one’s risk of developing dry eyes in the first place.
Use warm compresses then wash your eyelids
Placing a warm compress on your eyes then washing your eyelids with baby shampoo helps to release some of the oil in your eyelids’ glands, this improves the quality of your tears. Be sure you completely rinse soap from your eyes when finished to avoid irritating them.
Try an omega-3 fatty acid supplement
Some people report dry eye relief after adding omega-3 fatty acids to their diet. These can be found naturally in foods like oily fish and flax seeds, but can also be purchased in liquid or pill supplement form.