by Dr. Jonathan Geller
Do your eyes feel gritty, scratchy or get red as the day wears on? Do you experience burning or are your contact lenses uncomfortable by the end of the day? If so, you may be experiencing “Dry Eye Syndrome”.
Many people, especially woman, do not produce enough tear lubrication to keep their eyes comfortable. This is a very common condition among woman starting as young as their thirties and dry eyes can cause great discomfort and frustration. This lack of lubrication and resulting irritation and inflammation is one of the leading causes of visits to eye care professionals.
Dry eye syndrome is a group of disorders of the natural tear film due to insufficient tear production or excessive tear-film evaporation. While there is no single cause, the chronic irritation with possible pain in severe cases can lead to a diminished quality of life.
Why are woman much more susceptible to dry eye than men? Intrinsically, it is two to three times more common in woman than men. Research shows male hormones are good for tear gland structure and function. Menopause, or more specifically, the lack of estrogen, does not appear to be a factor in the greater prevalence of dry eye in older women. In fact, recent studies have shown that hormone replacement therapy makes dry eye worse rather than better, and that taking estrogen increases the likelihood of experiencing symptoms of dry eye.
A wide variety of medications can reduce tear production and cause the gritty, burning feeling of dry eye syndrome. This list includes diuretics, heart medications, anti-histamines, sleeping pills, anti-anxiety medications and pain relievers. Be sure to tell your eye care professional if you are using any of these medications.
So what can be done to bring your eyes back to comfort? Artificial tears are the mainstay of therapy but while they do add lubrication to the surface of your eye, they also have limitations. While some users find them effective for four to six hours, others feel these drops are inadequate as they only provide a short period of relief. Another concern can be that the preservatives used in these preparations can cause side effects in the long term.
A therapy that most people will benefit from is the use of Omega-3 Fatty acids, i.e., fish oil and flaxseed oil. These two supplements have remarkable health benefits in addition to rebuilding the tear film of the eye. When consuming approximately 3,000 milligrams of fish oil, benefits can include improved brain function, heart health, joint lubrication and skin moisture. This can make fish oil and flax seed oil highly beneficial for people dealing with skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis and dryness. The anti-inflammatory effects of these oils also greatly benefit those with auto-immune conditions such as Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis and Fibromyalgia. And for woman with high cholesterol or triglycerides, balancing your blood chemistry with the Omega-3 fatty acids can be most beneficial.
An important consideration to keep in mind is that no two nutritional supplements should be considered the same. In order to maximize the benefits and safety of your fish oil, it should come from fresh, deep-water, wild-caught fish. The best “and safest” brands offer purity-certified oils which undergo molecular distillation and proprietary refinement processes to remove heavy metals and other environmental pollutants.
Two of the most intriguing, state-of-the-art treatments for dry eye and often the most successful are;
1.) “Punctual Plugs” and 2.) Restasis prescription eye drops. Our tears constantly drain out of our eyes through a small channel in our eyelids. By the use of a tiny plug, your eye doctor can block this channel either temporarily or long-term in order to retain your natural tears rather than having it flow “down the drain”. This technique, called “Punctal Occlusion” can boost your moisture level by slowing the rate of drainage from the eye. It is safe, effective and completely reversible while being extremely convenient for patients. In recent years, this has become one of our most popular treatments for this all-to-common problem.
Restasis eye drops are a unique prescription medication which stimulates your tear production by the lacrimal gland to produce a higher volume of tears. It has enjoyed an impressive level of success for many patients. These two treatments can be used alone or in conjunction with one another.
I encourage you to be proactive and seek care if you are suffering any type of ocular discomfort. Technology is allowing us to help more patients feel better than ever.
Next month will have Part 2 of this article.
Dr. Geller is the primary care optometrist at Golden Triangle Optometrics in Murrieta and is celebrating his twentieth year of providing eye care to the families of the Temecula Valley. For more information or to make an appointment, call (951) 698-4575.