Ask the Eye Docs: Relief for Dry and Itchy Eyes
For more than a decade, the dedicated team of eye specialists at Georgia Eye Physicians and Surgeons, P.C. has provided patients from all across Georgia with an array of eye care services, ranging from routine vision examinations and prescription eyewear to advanced eye disease treatment and refractive eye surgery. In this ongoing blog feature, you will have the opportunity to benefit from the expertise of board certified ophthalmologist Dr. William Segal and licensed consultative optometrist Dr. Marc Lay as they answer some of the eye care questions most frequently asked by patients.
QUESTION: I am a working professional in my mid-thirties, and have had excellent vision, without any need for glasses or contacts, for my entire life. However, within the last several months, my eyes have become increasingly dry and itchy, especially at the end of a work day. Although it feels as though I have a bit of sand or dust trapped in my eye, I don’t think that can be the case since my eyes also water excessively, to the point that tears sometimes run down my cheeks. What could possibly be causing this and is there any way that I can treat it?
ANSWER: Ironically, excessive tear production may actually be a symptom of chronic dry eye, a common side effect of excessive computer screen, tablet, and smart phone use. Tears, which the eye produces to keep itself moist and well-lubricated, are composed of water (for moisture), natural oils (for lubrication), mucus (for consistency), and special proteins and antibodies (to help resist infection). If the tear ducts are not producing enough oil and mucus, then the tears will not be of the correct consistency to properly coat the eyes. Instead, the tears simply evaporate or run out of the eyes without performing their necessary functions.
While dry eyes may seem like just an irritant, they can in fact be a precursor to serious visual problems. Without regular lubrication, the eyes are at an increased risk for developing certain bacterial infections and the long-term damage to the surface of the eyes may eventually develop into corneal ulcers. Treatment typically involves either non-prescription artificial tears or prescription anti-inflammatory medication like cyclosporine, which decreases corneal damage and increases basic tear production. Some patients even find relief by supplementing their diet with omega-3 fatty acids, which are found naturally in foods like oily fish (salmon, sardines, anchovies) and flax seeds. Finally, severe cases can be treated through the use of tiny punctual tear plugs, which can be inserted into the tear drains at the corners of the upper and lower eyelids, restricting the amount of fluid that can drain from the eye and conserving the naturally-occurring tears.
As with all forms of treatment, it is important to first undergo a comprehensive medical eye exam so that we can fully investigate all of the factors involved and determine the course of treatment that is right for you. If you would like to learn more about the various services we offer or if you have any other concerns about your vision, please contact Georgia Eye Physicians and Surgeons to schedule a appointment with Dr. Segal or Dr. Lay today. Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ for more information on how to keep your vision clear and healthy.