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It’s official. Our eyes are getting drier. In the past ten years we have seen an epidemic of dry eye syndrome throughout the western world. The advent of the digital age as well as lifestyle and diet changes all contribute to the problem.

Here are some things about dry eye you may not have known.

1. Dry eye is managed, rather than cured…

Unfortunately there is no definitive once-off treatment for dry eye, although effective management is possible with most people. Up to 70% of dry eye is evaporative; this means the tears can easily evaporate from the surface of your eye because of deficiencies in the thin layer of oil that sits on top of your tear film.

Your tears are made up of three distinct layers;

a thin mucus layer, a thick watery layer (or aqueous layer) and a thin oily (or lipid) layer on top to stop it all from evaporating. The oily tears are secreted from a special row of glands in the eyelids. These are called meibomian glands and when they are working well, they squeeze oil into the tear film on every blink. And therein lies one of the problems: if you blink infrequently or incompletely, the oil doesn’t make it into the tear film and the tears are not spread over the whole eyeball. The result? Burning, itching, red eyes.

Adding artificial tear drops can help with the immediate symptoms of dry eye but it doesn’t get to the root of the problem.

2. Dry eye is often a skin problem, rather than an eye problem…

Even though the symptoms of dry eye are felt, as the name suggests, in your eyes, the root of the problem often lies in your skin. Skin conditions such as acne rosacea, eczema and psoriasis can all cause the meibomian glands to malfunction and are strongly associated with dry eye syndrome.

One of the mainstays of our dry eye treatment at The Eye Practice..

is a course of doxycycline pills to address the underlying skin condition.

Many of patients find a huge improvement in symptoms after a couple of months on the drug.

3. Omega 3s are good for dry eyes

The challenges of feeding the world’s burgeoning population has led to the intensification of farming over the past 50 years. This in turn has led to a change in our diet, whereby we now consume far more omega 6 oils (in vegetable and seed oils) and less omega 3 oils (from seafood and other sources) than we did in the past.

Our species once consumed Omega 3s and 6s in roughly even quantities. These days we consume far (up to 20 times) more omega 6s at the expense of omega 3s.

This shift is thought to be responsible for changes in the make up of our cells, resulting in an epidemic of health problems – including dry eye. Addressing the balance by increasing omega 3s in your diet, or taking an omega 3 supplement, can make a difference to your dry eye symptoms from the inside out.

4. Blinking

We’re not doing it like we used to. The digital age has led to a huge upsurge in screen time, resulting in poor blink rates and incomplete blinking – both of which cause dry eye problems.

The oil from the meibomian glands doesn’t make it into the eye if the lids don’t completely close and even if they do, it is likely to be at a greatly reduced rate compared to pre-digital times.

Want to improve your dry eye symptoms?

Use the 20-20-20 rule to guide you: Stand up from your computer every 20 minutes, look into the distance for 20 seconds and blink firmly 20 times. Blinking is performed by muscles in the eyelids. Just like any other muscle, if your don’t use it you lose it. So get blinking!

5. Dry eye drops could be making your problem worse

Artificial tears are often the first line treatment for dry eye symptoms,

and, for mild cases of dry eye, especially if due to environmental factors such as airconditioning or wind, they can be quite effective.

They supplement your own natural tears in much the same way as a moisturiser hydrates your skin. But the fact is that up to 70% of dry eye is believed to be evaporative – i.e. caused by a lack of the thin oily layer of your tear film (and not a shortage of aqueous tears). In the case of evaporative dry eye, artificial tears may actually do more harm than good, by flushing away even more of your essential oily tear layer.

At The Eye Practice dry eye clinic,

we try to get to the root of the problem by addressing the underlying causes of evaporative dry eye. Improving your skin function will have huge benefits for your tear film and often the combination of a course of antibiotics plus a nutritional supplement as well as a mechanical removal of the hardened oil blocking the meibomian glands, can have spectacular success where other treatments – like artificial tears – have failed.

Have you got dry eyes? Call us on (02) 9290 1899 or make an appointment online.