Dry eye: you have heard the term before, but do you really know what it is? Dry eye is a little more complicated than it sounds, and the resulting consequences go beyond simple dryness. With the widespread use of face masks to reduce disease transmission during the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen that dry eye symptoms are increasing in our patients who are regularly wearing them. Research from the University of Utah published in the journal Ophthalmology and Therapy suggests that face masks without a tight fit can direct airflow from breathing up and across the eye surface, facilitating evaporation that promotes dry eye.
Dry eye can also be caused by a number of underlying conditions, ranging from the natural aging process to side effects of prescription drugs, structural problems with the eye lids (lid margin disease, blepharitis) and side effects of certain diseases, such as Sjogren’s syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, and other collagen vascular diseases.
Your eye depends on tears, a combination of water, oils, mucus, and antibodies, to provide constant moisture and lubrication in order to maintain not only comfort, but also proper vision. When there is an imbalance in the tear system, a person can experience dry eye. If you are experiencing eye stinging or burning, itching, inability to keep eyes open for long periods of time, the constant feeling of something in your eye, or excess tearing, then you may be suffering from dry eye. It is important to bring these symptoms up to your eye doctor – optometrist or ophthalmologist – to start treatment as soon as possible.
Thankfully, there are several treatments currently available for dry eye. Eye drops, which are artificial tears that can help keep your eyes properly lubricated, are an over-the-counter method of treating dry eye. Also, certain medications and topical steroids are non-invasive methods that can be used to temporarily bring the tear film to a healthy and stable state. These treatment options are typically successful, but there are also surgical options, such as temporary and permanent punctual occlusion, that your eye doctor can consider if symptoms persist.
If you believe you are experiencing dry eye, whether it is a chronic issue or if your symptoms started because of regularly wearing a face mask, it’s vital to let your eye care provider know. While untreated chronic dry eye may cause permanent damage to your eye, there are very successful and accessible treatments available. Even if you are not suffering from dry eye, these dry eye symptoms may be caused by another eye disorder which may need treatment by a specialist.
For more on this topic or other questions, contact Anne Arundel Eye Center. The staff is dedicated to making the best eye care accessible to everyone – call 410-224-2010.