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Dry and Itchy Eyes This Winter?

dry eyes in the coldComputers. Air pollution. Sun. Our modern age and environment can be punishing for our eyes which need to stay moist to be fully functional. Dry Eye is now a recognized eye disease defined by either a decrease in tear production or an increase in tear film evaporation which can result in ocular surface inflammation. In both cases, your eyes are not as moist as they need to be to maintain the proper lubrication. Other symptoms include dryness, burning and a sandy-gritty eye irritation that usually gets worse as the day progresses. You may also have the feeling as if something, like a speck of sand, is in your eye.

Treatment for Dry Eye

We spoke with Dr. Greg Carr of Saugeen Shores Family Eye Care, a dry eye expert serving Saugeen Shores, Kincardine, Tiverton and the surrounding communities to find out what can be done about this eye health problem.

Dr. Carr, is it true that Dry Eye symptoms seem to be more severe in the winter than in the warmer spring and summer months?

Dry Eye symptoms are a big problem all year round for Canadians and winter can be an even greater challenge for those suffering with this chronic condition. With colder weather and many people spending increased hours indoors with the heat on, the dryness of our environment exacerbates Dry Eye symptoms. We often see a rise in patients coming into our Saugeen Shores office with Dry Eye symptoms during the winter months.

When should a person come in to see their optometrist for Dry Eye symptoms and when is it enough to take care of this problem yourself?

Dry Eye is a very real and treatable condition that needs to be examined and dealt with appropriately and promptly. Some people are under the impression that it is enough to place some lubricating eye drops in their eyes and their Dry Eye problems will go away. This is just not true. While over-the-counter artificial tear products can help with mild cases of Dry Eye, or temporarily relieve symptoms, they can also prolong the problem and sometimes even cause a case of Dry Eye to worsen. Chronic soreness, irritation, or scratchiness are all really good reasons to make an appointment with us to have a complete eye examination or dry eye assessment.

What is the examination like to determine whether someone is suffering from Dry Eye?

There are a number of tests that we use in order to check the viability and stability of the eye’s tear film and to measure the production of tears. While these tests are helpful, the most important indicator of a problem is the information provided by the patient about their experience and description of symptoms.

I have a friend in Southampton whose eyes are frequently overly watery. That isn't Dry Eye, is it?

Logic tells us that should not be the diagnosis, but in fact watery eyes are one of the common symptoms associated with Dry Eye. Although we use the term Dry Eye, this does not actually mean that the problem is dryness in the eyes. Instead, we are referring to a problem that takes place in the eye’s tear layer. This film protects the surface eye tissues and lubricates the eye, helping you to achieve clear vision. Due to soreness or irritation that accompanies Dry Eye, your eyes react by producing extra tears. The result is a Dry Eye symptom and the experience of overly watery eyes!

What are the typical treatments used to help people suffering from Dry Eye?

There are many, many products out there providing artificial lubrication for the eyes that can be very confusing for consumers. Natural tears, produced by the eye, are more complex than you would think and are made up of many types of enzymes and oils, each playing an important role in keeping your eyes healthy and lubricated. In order to prescribe the right treatment for your specific case of Dry Eye, we first need to identify the cause. Once your situation is accurately assessed and diagnosed, the most common treatment is to find the lubrication that will address your specific needs. Other treatments, like punctal plugs to reduce tear drainage, protective eyewear and anti-inflammatory medications can be more extensive and are utilized only when necessary.

Are some people more prone to having Dry Eye than others?

The environment is a major contributor to Dry Eye symptoms. For example here in Saugeen Shores we see that people spend many hours daily in front of a computer, whether for work or at home. Our lake front weather can also be challenging. Generally, people who are outdoors or in front of a computer have a higher frequency of dry eye symptoms. Interestingly enough, women are more prone to the problem than men are; and the older we get, the more common the problem tends to be.

Do you have any recommendations for people to help them avoid Dry Eye issues?

It is important to control your environment so that it is not overly dry. Protecting our eyes from wind and any potential pollutants can be a good deterrent to Dry Eye symptoms as well. People that spend a lot of time in front of a computer screen may help the lubrication of their eyes by simply taking short, frequent breaks from the computer screen. It is important to stress that when common Dry Eye symptoms are experienced, you should see your Doctor of Optometry so that the problem does not persist and is treated appropriately. Like so many things in health care, moderation of any activity is always a good rule of thumb.

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