Dry, itchy eyes, or "Dry Eye Syndrome", is the most common complaint that eye doctors hear from patients. Americans of both sexes, of all ages, and of all racial backgrounds have mild or severe instances of dry itchy eyes.
Self Help & Tips
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- Diet Include greens, drink water, avoid sugars, toxic fats, allergens.
- Use a humidifier
- Remember to blink when working on the computer
- Check your medications and avoid harmful drugs
- Eyelid massage
The eyes often reflect a larger problem that needs to be treated systemically. Certain nutrients such as vitamins A, C, D, E, & B6, Magnesium, GLA & DHA, Mucopolysaccharides (mucopolysaccharides are sugar molecules clumped together in a long chain) & tumeric may help ease chronic and severe dry eyes.
Dry itchy eyes are often related to other health conditions in the body such as other mucous membrane dryness, brittle nails, and in interior surfaces like the joints. The condition can an indicator of digestive imbalances or of serious autoimmune diseases, like Sjogren's syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, or lupus erthematosus.
Symptoms typically include irritation, dryness, burning, grittiness, difficulty reading for long periods of time, and, even though it may seem contradictory, excessive watering or tearing as the eyes attempt to solve the problem.
There are three interrelated layers of the "tear film" - the moisture laden surface of the eye and continuity of that surface and the production of tears relies on the function of three interrelated layers:
- Mucus layer which has some anti-microbial properties.
- Slightly alkaline watery layer comprising up 90% of the thickness of the tear film.
- Oily layer which slows evaporation of the tear film.
- Blinking renews the tear film by bringing material from the watery and oily layers removing debris. While normal blink rate is about 10-12 blinks per minute, when working on the computer our blink rate often slows. After about 10 seconds the tear film becomes unstable - leading to tired, dry eyes. It is the cornea that tells the brain to send messages to the body to produce more or less tears and when to blink.
Causes of Dry Eyes
- Any disruption in the tear production process
- Blepharitis with inflammed eyelids can cause dry itchy eye symptoms.
- Computer Users tend to blink much less frequently (about 3-4 times per minute verses the normal about 10-15 times per minute). This causes increased tear film instability and evaporation accompanied by eye strain and fatigue that comes of staring at a computer screen. The position of the monitor below eye level allow the upper eyelid to cover more of the eye's surface protecting the tear film from evaporation.
- LASIK surgery temporarily disrupts the normal activity of the tear film mechanism. Also, during LASIK, about 60-70% of the superficial nerve fibers in the cornea are cut, which affects both sensing of dryness and production of aqueous tears. As a result the rate of blinking can slow so much that the tear film deteriorates before the next blink reconstitutes it. The end result may be many months of mild to severe symptoms. Eventually, this situation usually heals itself.
- Other diseases that may be connected to dry eyes are Diabetes, (especially with high blood sugar), Rheumatoid Arthritis, Thyroid disease (lower lid does not move when blinking), Asthma, Lupus, and possibly Glaucoma.
- Age: Dry itchy eyes are experienced by 75% of those over 65, by which time you have 40% of the volume of tear film that you had when you were 18.
- Women's hormonal changes can cause lowered tear production caused by menstruation, by pregnancy, lactation, and especially post menopausal hormonal changes .
- Other causes for dry eyes are smoking, drinking a lot of coffee, wearing contact lenses, being in air-conditioning or heated places with low humidity.
- Vitamin D deficiency is associated with eye pain, inadequate tear film, and unstable tear film according to 2015 research.
Drugs that can cause dry eye symptoms
See "Drugs That Harm the Eyes" for a more complete list of harmful drugs:
- Appetite suppressants
- Birth control pills
- Blood pressure medications
- Over-the-counter vasoconstrictors (i.e. Visine)
- Ulcer medications
Conventional Dry and Sore Eyes Treatment
Several treatments are available - from artificial tears to a surgical dry, sore eyes treatment.
- Artificial tears are usually recommended which provide short-term relief, but only hide the symptoms without improving the condition. In fact, preservatives in such formulations can actually worsen the condition. Artificial tears that say they will "get the red out" have the effect of reduce circulation of blood in the eye, thereby decreasing production of tear film, and actually make your eyes still drier.
- Punctal occlusion is a procedure used to close the tear drainage canals with silicone plugs keeping most of the fluid from the surface of the eye. This may provide long-term relief.
Dry Eye Tests
There are a number of tests used by eye doctors to find the source of problems - which layer of the tear film is involved. These tests help the eye doctor determine what treatment might be helpful. Some common tests include:
- Schirmer tear test (commonly used in dry eye research)
- Tear film break-up time (10 seconds) (commonly used in dry eye research)
- Conjunctival impression cytology (commonly used in dry eye research)
- Rose Bengal staining pattern
- Tear Osmolarity
- Tear protein levels (lactoferrin and lysozyme)
- Presence of corneal filaments
- Evaluation of debris in tear film
Self Help for Dry Eyes
Diet & Nutrition
- See Eye Care for Seniors article.
- Supplementation with research-proven nutrients and eyedrops that have been found to be helpful to manage dry eyes.
- See our important vision care recommendations
- Make sure to eat lots of green leafy vegetables.
- Avoid sugar and/or artificial sweeteners: Consumption of more than 11 teaspoons of sugar a day has been linked to dry eye syndrome (a single can of soda contains approximately 9 teaspoons of sugar). Sugar is hidden throughout processed and refined foods including cereals, ketchup, and salad dressings.
- Avoid the toxic fats in commercial red meat, dairy products, fried foods, and man-made fats. These fats interfere with the proper metabolism of essential fatty acids in the body and are indirect causes of dry eye syndrome
- Drink 8-10 glasses of water a day.
- Avoid any foods to which you may be allergic. Try cutting out categories of foods for a week at a time, and see how you feel, or visit an allergist for testing. Typical allergenic foods include nightshades (eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, white potatoes and cucumbers), milk, wheat, and corn (or products with corn in them).
- Dry Eye Homeopathic Eye Drops are very effective. We recommend the drops especially formulated for women and for men.
- Use a humidifier at home and/or at work to keep the air from drying out in the winter.
- Remember to blink, especially while working at the computer.
- Check your medications for any side effects that may cause dry eyes.
- Gently massage your upper and lower lids, a couple of times a day to stimulate the tear glands.
Studies and Information
See Dry Eyes Research.