Eyedrops can help dry eyes by keeping them moist and stimulating blinking.
There are several ways to keep your tears flowing and your eyes moistened.
No More Tears is a comforting name for a baby shampoo, but it isn’t a phrase you’d want to describe your own eyes. Without tears—a layered solution of oil, water, and mucus produced by glands in the upper eyelid—your eyes would suffer mightily. A healthy film of tears cleans and protects your cornea and helps preserve your vision.
Dry eyes is a condition in which people have too few tears. Although eye dryness may flare up in response to hormonal changes during pregnancy and menopause, it can become more of an issue as tear production diminishes with age. “We all lose tears with age, but tear loss begins earlier and is more severe in women,” says Dr. Mark Abelson, clinical professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.
Causes of dry eyes
The natural loss of tears can be made worse by a number of other things, including these:
Environment. Low humidity can dry out your eyes as well as your skin. Air pollutants and allergens can cause inflammation, which decreases tear production. These may also cause your eyes to produce “reflex tears” that are too watery to lubricate the cornea properly.
Reduced blinking. Blinking stimulates tear production and spreads the tear film evenly over the cornea. But we tend to blink less as we get older. Moreover, driving, reading, working at a computer, or any other activity that causes you to blink less often can lead to dry eyes.
Medications. Dry eyes can be a side effect of a wide range of drugs, including antihistamines, antianxiety agents, antidepressants, incontinence medications, and diuretics.
Eye surgery. Lasik, the laser procedure performed on the cornea to improve vision, can affect the eye’s ability to produce tears for as long as six months after surgery.
Keeping your eyes lubricated
To reduce your chances of developing dry eyes, try the following:
Protect your eyes from the environment. Wear protective glasses or goggles outdoors if you are bothered by wind or air pollution.
Create a better indoor climate. Get a humidifier if your home is too dry, especially if you have forced-air heating. Set your air conditioner to preserve some humidity if you live in a warm climate. Don’t use a hair dryer near your eyes.
Avoid eyestrain. Reading in low light or struggling to make out fine print can contribute to dry eyes, but if your vision needs to be corrected, use glasses instead of contact lenses. “The dollar reading glasses are fine for going over a menu, but you can do your eyes more harm than good if you don’t have the right prescription lenses for fine work and reading,” Dr. Abelson says.
Blink more. When you’re doing something that requires you to stare for long periods, try to stop and blink at regular intervals. It can also help to avoid heavy reading or computer work in the evening, because you naturally blink less later in the day.
Check your meds. If you are taking a drug that can dry out your eyes, ask your doctor to suggest a different medication or other therapy.
Use eyedrops. Lubricating dropslike Systane Ultra, Systane Balance, and Blink Tears—that contain polyethelene glycol, propylene glycol, or both—not only moisten eyes, they can also help normalize blinking.
Dry eye disease
“We tend to confuse dry eye, the disease, with dry eyes, the condition,” Dr. Abelson says. Dry eye disease may result from vitamin A deficiency, diabetes, or thyroid disease. It may also be related to certain autoimmune disorders, including Sjögren syndrome and rheumatoid arthritis, in which the body’s immune cells turn against organs and tissues, including tear glands.
Dry eye disease should be treated by an ophthalmologist, who can determine the cause and extent of the problem. The first approach is usually to replace the tears. There are several eyedrops labeled “artificial tears” that closely resemble the composition of normal tears. Using the drops four times a day usually provides adequate lubrication.
For more severe cases, your doctor may suggest closing the tiny “drain holes” in your eyelids with silicone or collagen inserts called punctal plugs. Eyedrops containing cyclosporine (Restasis) can stimulate tear production. When dry eye is a consequence of a Lasik procedure, a corneal shield, which resembles a large contact lens, can be worn to preserve tears.