Even if you don’t have severe dry eye disease, that’s not to say you’re not headed that way. Dry eye is a progressive disease – it gets worse over time.
What many people don’t realise is that it is far easier to treat successfully in the early stages, before the cycle of inflammation gets going. Find out how to spot early signs of this debilitating disease and nip it in the bud.
1. Eye rubbing, especially when / after using digital screens
Eye-rubbing can feel very satisfying but it’s actually a sign that your eyes are not happy. As the surface of the eyes dehydrates due to environmental factors (wind, air-con etc)the ultra-sensitive corneal nerves register pain and the reaction is to want to close the eyes and rub them to feel better. Eye-rubbing is not a good habit, and can be associated with a rare progressive corneal disease called keratoconus, so it’s important to get to the bottom of what’s causing it. One possible cause is itch – from allergy – in which case an anti-allergy medication may be called for. But the most common reason is not enough tears. If you find yourself rubbing your eyes after screen use or in dry atmospheres, you may not be making enough tears to keep your eyes healthy and happy.
What to do:
Think about WHEN the eye-rubbing is occurring. Is it in response to itchy eyes when you are outdoors? if so, it’s probably not dry eye. But if you’re prone to rubbing the eyes during the working day, especially when working on digital screens or driving, or watching TV, early dry eye disease may have begun in your eyes. Consult with an experienced dry eye practitioner to find out what’s underlying your dryness. If it’s a lack of oil in the tear film, there are strategies to get the oil flowing better. These include lid scrubs, Blephex (a type of in-house exfoliation of the eye lid margins) and oral antibiotics to readdress the consistency of your oily tears. If, on the other hand, the problem is a lack of aqueous (watery tears), a good quality, unpreserved tear-supplement may be required – but not until you have rehabilitated your blinking (quality and quantity). Your dry eye specialist will show you a serious of exercises to help restore your blinking and improve your symptoms. Left untreated, if doesn’t take long before you start to see damage to the oil glands of the eyelids (meibomian glands) or to the ocular surface and the inflammation cycle begins. Being proactive early in dry eye disease makes a big difference to your prognosis.
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2. Redness, especially after working, watching TV or driving
Inflammation of the tiny blood vessels of the white of your eye (or sclera) is a sign that all is not well. Exposure can be caused by poor blinking – either not enough blinks or incomplete blinks. Dry environments in offices and staring at screens can all push you into dry eye disease territory.
What to do:
Redness is a hallmark sign of inflammation. Breaking the cycle of inflammation is critical to heading off a more serious dry eye problem. Your dry eye specialist – a therapeutically qualified optometrist or ophthalmologist – can prescribe eye drops to switch off the inflammation. This may be in the form of steroid or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory eye drops. You may also be to take an oral medication for a couple of months to help control the redness by getting to the underlying causes of dry eye disease.
Don’t even THINK about vasoconstrictors. These eye drops constrict the blood vessels of the white of your eye, making them look temporarily whiter. Trouble is, they don’t address the underlying cause of the redness and in fact will make your eyes even redder the moment you stop using them. People get hooked on these drops and cannot get off them. If this is you, talk to your therapeutically-endorsed optometrist about how you may be able to switch to an alternative eye drop and then slowly wean yourself off them.
3. Contact lens intolerance
You don’t notice it at first – just a feeling of wanting a break from your contacts at weekends. But it starts to become obvious that you are avoiding contact lens wear increasingly.
Where as in your early twenties you may have happily worn your contacts all day every day, now that you’ve been wearing lenses for several years, you’re only too glad to get them out of your eyes after work. Or you may even find yourself choosing to wear glasses at work and reserving the contacts for social occasions or sport.
The trouble? Contact lenses soak up water – including your own tears. If you’re already a bit short on tears, most contact lenses will only add to the problem. In fact this can one of the earliest signs of dry eye syndrome.
What to do:
Newer contact lens materials use novel ways and advanced technology to prevent excess absorption of your precious tears and actually add moisture back into your eyes. Talk to your optometrist about trialling some of the newer materials. What works for one person may not be so good for another. It’s a matter of trial and error to find what suits your particular eyes. But one thing’s for sure; materials are a lot better than they were even 4 or 5 years ago so it is definitely worth a switch if you’ve been having tolerance issues.