Just as your skin loses moisture with age, so may your eyes. This loss of lubrication is what causes dry eye syndrome, or dry eye. Nearly 3.2 million women and 1 million men over age 50 suffer from chronic dry eye, according to a recent study.
People who suffer from dry eye syndrome, also known as kerato-conjunctivitis sicca, don’t produce enough tears or produce tears that don’t do a good job of lubricating the eyes. Their eyes may burn; sting; feel scratchy, irritated and tired; or produce excess tears of poor quality.
The chances of developing dry eye increases significantly with age. Menopause is a common culprit, which helps explain why dry eye affects mostly middle-aged and older women. But dry eye can be caused by factors other than those associated with age. Certain medications—such as diuretics, antihistamines, pain relievers, sleeping pills and anti-depressants—can rob your eyes of their natural water, oil and mucus. Allergies and environmental irritants like smoke, sun, wind and low humidity can dry out eyes, too. In some cases, dry eye can be caused by the autoimmune disorder Sjogren’s syndrome, in which the body attacks its own moisture-producing glands.
You need tears not just for comfort and showing emotions but also for preventing infection and protecting your vision, so if you regularly suffer from dry eye, it’s important to see your doctor. He or she can determine what’s causing your discomfort or refer you to a specialist. Treatment will depend on the cause of your dry eyes. Although no cure exists for dry eye syndrome, over-the-counter artificial tears may be enough to relieve discomfort for mild cases. More extreme cases may require surgery.
In the meantime, follow these “tearjerker tips” to keep your eyes healthy and moist:
- Wear wraparound sunglasses to shield your eyes from the sun and wind.
- Don’t smoke and avoid exposure to secondhand smoke.
- Take frequent breaks from staring at computer or TV screens.
- Use preservative-free eye drops whenever your eyes feel dry.
- Limit use of hair dryers.
- Avoid overly warm rooms.
- Use a humidifier in dry rooms.