As winter reluctantly turns into spring, fluctuating temperatures and dry air can wreak havoc on our eyes. So consider this: if your eyes feel irritated, you may be experiencing dry eye syndrome.
A thin layer of tear film covers and lubricates our eyes. But when cold or dry air disturb its balanced mix of water, oil, and protein, the results can range from pain, blurred vision, a scratchy or burning sensation, or even watery eyes as the body tries to rehydrate.
How do you know it’s not allergies? Pennsylvania Medical Society member and Pittsburgh-area ophthalmologist Michael Azar, MD, explains, “Dry eye usually causes a sandy, burning, tired eye feeling while allergies usually cause itching. Because both dry eye and allergies can cause watery eyes, differentiating the two conditions can be difficult and may require an eye exam.”
Dr. Azar adds that dry eye syndrome can occur at any age, but is more common in older individuals. Post-menopausal women are especially prone to the condition, that may also be related to certain medications like diuretics (water pills), antihistamines (for colds) and beta blockers (for high blood pressure).
“Most dry eye is a simply a nuisance,” says Dr. Azar, “and artificial tears or warm compresses can assist with tear secretion if you have classic dry eye symptoms. At home, a furnace humidifier or room humidifier can help. More severe symptoms, however, may require a doctor’s care or prescription and include oral doxycycline, punctal [tear duct] plugs, topical steroids or topical cyclosporine (Restasis).
“Severe dry eye can make you vulnerable to corneal infections which can permanently affect your vision. If artificial tears don’t seem to help, please contact an ophthalmologist for a thorough eye exam.”
Editor’s note: I’m going to try using artificial tears for my scratchy eyes. Do you have dry eye symptoms? What works for you?