What is dry eye disease?
Dry eye can occur when your body doesn’t produce enough tears or the tears evaporate too fast. When you blink, the tears spread over the surface of the eye and help keep our eyes moist and our vision clear.
How common is it?
Dry eye is one of the most common reasons people visit an eye doctor. It is estimated that up to 30 million people in the United States have dry eye and up to 350 million worldwide.
What are the symptoms?
Dry eye doesn’t always feel like dryness. Common symptoms include stinging and burning, blurry vision that fluctuates throughout the day, feeling like something is in your eye, irritation when wearing contact lenses, and, lastly, tearing. It may sound funny that tearing is a symptom of dryness, but when the eyes are dry, sometimes the body tries to produce a lot of tears to compensate, and so the eyes start to water.
What causes it?
There are many causes, and often people will have a few reasons why their eyes are dry. We know dryness is common as we get older, and it is very common in women, especially because of hormonal changes caused by menopause. Certain inflammatory diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, Sjögren’s syndrome, lupus, and thyroid disease, can lead to dryness. The environment, such as air quality or humidity, is a big factor as well.
Also, screen time is a well-known risk factor, because when we stare at screens we blink less, which can dry out the eyes. For those who work at a computer every day, a good rule of thumb is 20/20/20: every 20 minutes look 20 feet away for 20 seconds. It’s important to give your eyes time to rest throughout the day.
Use of contact lenses can also make the eyes dry. Lastly, certain medications, such as those for high blood pressure, allergies, anxiety, and depression, as well as sleeping pills, can lead to dryness. If you have dry eye, it is important to talk to your ophthalmologist about any medications you are taking.