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My eyes are always red and scratchy!

Demystifying dry eye

Are your eyes always red and scratchy? Do you often find yourself rubbing your eyes due to discomfort and dryness? Or notice that your eyes are frequently teary? If so, you may be experiencing the all-too-common symptoms of dry eye. At first, it may seem like a minor inconvenience and irritation, however dry eye can significantly impact your daily life and overall eye health if left untreated. In this article, we’ll demystify the intricacies of dry eye, exploring its causes, symptoms, and most importantly, effective treatment options.

Understanding dry eye

Dry eye occurs when your eyes are unable to produce enough tears or when the quality of the tears is compromised causing them to dry too quickly. Tears play a crucial role in maintaining the health of your eyes by lubricating the surface, washing away debris, and providing essential nutrients and oxygen to the cornea. When this delicate balance is disrupted, it can lead to a range of uncomfortable symptoms. In the longer term, this can lead to further eye health issues and symptoms.

Common causes and risk factors

Several factors can contribute to the development of dry eye, including:

  1. Age: As we age, our bodies produce fewer tears, making older adults more susceptible to dry eye.
  2. Environment: Dry and windy climates, such as in the highveld of Gauteng, as well as exposure to smoke, pollution, and air conditioning, can exacerbate dry eye symptoms.
  3. Screen Time: Prolonged use of digital devices can reduce blink frequency, leading to increased tear evaporation and dryness.
  4. Medical Conditions: Autoimmune diseases, hormonal changes, and diabetes can all affect tear production.
  5. Medications: Certain medications, including antihistamines, decongestants, and antidepressants, can cause or worsen dry eye symptoms.

Recognising the symptoms

The symptoms of dry eye can vary from person to person but commonly include:

  • Persistent dryness and irritation
  • Redness
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Blurred vision
  • Eye fatigue
  • Excessive tearing (This is the body’s response to correct the dryness)

If you experience any of these symptoms regularly, it’s important to visit an ophthalmologist to determine the underlying cause and appropriate treatment plan.

Treatment options

Fortunately, numerous treatment options are available to alleviate the symptoms of dry eye and improve the overall health of your eyes:

  1. Artificial tears: Eye drops and over-the-counter artificial tear drops provide temporary relief by lubricating the eyes and restoring moisture.
  2. Prescription medications: Your ophthalmologist may prescribe medication to reduce inflammation and stimulate tear production.
  3. Lifestyle modifications: Your ophthalmologist might advise simple changes such as reduced screen time, staying hydrated, avoiding prolonged periods in air-conditioned environments, and even using a humidifier which can all help alleviate dry eye symptoms. Using a warm compress may also be advised to help alleviate dry eye symptoms.
  4. Surgical treatments: If required, your ophthalmologist will advise on surgical options.
  5. TIXEL treatment: Ophthalmologists use a TIXEL device to deliver controlled thermal energy to the eyelids, targeting meibomian gland dysfunction. This stimulates gland function, improves tear film stability, and alleviates dry eye symptoms.
  6. SLT laser: typically used for treating glaucoma, has shown promise in addressing dry eye symptoms by stimulating the meibomian glands and enhancing tear film quality.

Dry eye is a common concern in our dry Gauteng climate and can significantly impact your quality of life. By recognising the symptoms, you can take proactive steps to manage your dry eye symptoms and maintain optimal eye health. If you’re experiencing persistent eye discomfort or redness or any concerns about your vision don’t hesitate to consult with an ophthalmologist for personalised evaluation and treatment recommendations.

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