By Judith Whitehead – Contributing Writer
July is Dry Eye Awareness Month.
When a person does not have the ability to produce enough of their own natural tears to adequately lubricate their eyes, they have a condition called dry eye. More than 40 million Americans suffer from dry eye, and many mistake their symptoms for allergies, fatigue or living in a dry environment.
There are a few types of dry eye.
One involves being deficient in aqueous, or fluid, production. In these cases, not enough tears are being produced by the body. This is the most common type.
Eyes become itchy, red and uncomfortable. The lids may stick shut on waking in the morning and feel almost like sand paper during the day.
Over-the-counter moisturizers may be tried. Make sure you do not buy a moisturizer that has a whitener component in it, as that may dry the eye even more. Drops with a “whitener” added may get the red out by blanching the blood vessel on the surface of the eye but also make the eye rebound even worse a few hours later.
Preservative-free drops are more pure and can be used several times a day but tend to be a little more expensive; they are good for the eyes.
Many wonder how they can have a dry eye if their eyes continually water? The body's answer to irritated eyes is watering as a defense; the eye produces tears but not of good oily quality and serve no purpose to help the problem.
Many people with dry eye may suffer from autoimmune diseases including Lupus or Rheumatoid arthritis. Dry eye can be a side effect of such conditions. Sjogrens disease can cause dry eye and dry mouth, which also have to be treated accordingly.
There are many treatments on the market to fight this annoying problem.
If over-the-counter drops don't work, you eye doctor may suggest a prescription drop such as Restasis or Xiidra to help restore the natural tear base for the eye. They are taken twice a day along with tears. Do not mistake Restasis or Xiidra for eye moisturizers; they are meant to restore one's own tears and can't always take the place of a moisturizer.
Also there are treatments such as punctual plugs that block the tear drain to help keep more moisture in the eyes. This is a simple procedure that is usually done in the office. Some plugs may be removed while others are more permanent.
The Meibomian glands produce oil that mixes with the water from the eyes and keep the eye healthy. If you have a condition called Meibomian gland dysfunction, your eyes will feel scratchy and irritated and the lids must be properly cleansed with a special wipe or warm washcloth to relieve the symptoms. There is also something called Lipiflow that may be used for an alternative treatment and diagnosis.
Also, one should try and avoid rubbing the eyes; try placing a cool compress over the eyes for relief. Constant rubbing can damage the cornea and make matters worse.
In order for an eye to stay healthy and infection-free, it must be moist and well lubricated. If your body can't provide those qualities, it is best to make an appointment with an eye care specialist to prevent infection, scarring of the cornea and irritations.
A dry eye becomes more susceptible to future eye conditions that are unpleasant.
Take care of your eyes – you only get two. Be proactive in your own health and remember prevention is the key to many health issues.
Judith Whitehead, of East Amherst, is a certified ophthalmic technician.