Here at Georgia Eye Physicians and Surgeons, board-certified ophthalmologist Dr. William Segal and comprehensive consultative optometrist Dr. Marc Lay treat patients for all kinds of vision and eye problems, from the most serious to the most routine. However, one specific issue that seems to plague a large number our patients is dry eye. Some studies have even reported that nearly half of Americans aged eighteen and older regularly experience dry eye symptoms. Unfortunately, chronic dry eye is actually more complicated than many people might think and can be symptomatic of a variety of different eye conditions. If you are suffering from that characteristic dry, scratchy, sandpaper feeling in your eyes, here are some important things that you need to know about chronic dry eye.
Many Different Conditions Can Cause Dry Eye
One of the most frustrating things about dry eyes is that they can be a symptom of many different vision problems. As a result, it can be difficult to determine a proper course of treatment without diagnostic testing, like the sort we perform during a comprehensive medical eye examination. In some cases, the anatomy of the tear ducts may allow the tears to drain from the eye’s surface too quickly. In others, the composition of the tears themselves may allow them to evaporate too readily. Environmental irritants, certain medications, bacterial infections, skin conditions, poor nutrition, or even the natural effects of age can also all negatively impact the proper functioning of the tear ducts.
Chronic Dry Eye Can Potentially Be Dangerous
We all know that dry eye is irritating, but it is usually a temporary problem that can be easily remedied by either removing an environmental irritation, getting enough rest, or with simple saline eye drops. However, when dry eyes are the result of a more serious medical issue, or if the condition persists for too long without treatment, some potentially dangerous problems could develop. Patients who suffer from chronically dry eyes have an increased risk for eye infections and may develop corneal ulcers, two conditions that can potentially lead to long term or even, in rare cases, permanent vision loss.
Effective Dry Eye Treatment Needs a Skilled Physician
Finding the right treatment for dry eye requires understanding the underlying factors that have caused it. Dry eye caused by environmental irritation or medications can be alleviated through relatively simple lifestyle changes. Similarly, many patients have found dry eye relief by supplementing their diet with omega-3 fatty acids, which are found naturally in foods like oily fish or flax seeds. More serious cases can be addressed with a prescription anti-inflammatory medication like cyclosporine and problems with the tear duct drains themselves can be corrected by implanting punctual tear plugs, which can be inserted into the tear drains at the corners of the upper and lower eyelids to restrict the amount of fluid that can drain from the eye and to conserve naturally-occurring tears. These tear plugs can be either permanent or dissolvable, depending on the specific needs of the patient.
While most cases of dry eye are nothing to worry about, it is important to note that many potentially serious eye conditions can progress slowly, so that patients may not notice that there is a problem until it is too late to avoid long-term damage. That is why we recommend that patients undergo a medical eye exam every one to two years, but your frequency of eye exams will also vary based on a patient’s age and prior medical history. If you are concerned about your vision or have any questions about your eye health, please feel free to contact Georgia Eye Physicians and Surgeons to schedule an appointment today. Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ for more information on how to keep your vision healthy.