Dry Eye Disease is a condition which can present itself at any age. The public perception is that it happens as you get older and is normal. However, that is not true due to modern rituals such as fast food, increased electronic use, and fast pace life. We are seeing dry eye in patients in their twenties.
Many of the contributing factors such as decreased blink rate, nutrition, dehydration, and chronic inflammation from allergies or bacteria can be changed. Modifying these factors can prevent further progression of dry eye before irreversible eye damage occurs.
Dry eye has two components: volume and quality of tears. The decrease in volume of tears is what most people recognize as dry eye but it is really only half of the problem. The tears are made up of three layers, the mucus, water, and oil layer. If all of these components are not adequate, then the tears will not effectively protect your eye. Research has discovered that 86% of dry eye is related to the lack of oil in the tears. The oil in your tears is provided by meibomian glands which are found in the eyelids. The oil glands will express oil into the tears when we blink. However, with our electronic advances people of all ages have increased the time spent reading and being entertained by our devices. When we engage in these activities, we reduce our blink rate and decrease the oil in our tears as well as the function of the glands.
Our diet also can contribute to poor gland function with a decrease of omega 3 in the diet and chronic dehydration. So the key is getting educated about the factors that will cause increased dryness and change them. Also getting frequent yearly checks to make sure your glands are functioning properly is important.
We do have treatments available in office to help with the factor contributing to meibomian gland dysfunction. BlephEx® is a procedure that will clean the bacterial biofilm that sits on the lids, and LipiFlow® will reopen the oil glands to improve function and stop progressive loss of the glands. If you have poor gland function, it can be fixed if diagnosed early. But if you have had years of damage, we will not be able to regenerate new glands.
The key is telling your doctor if you have any signs of dry eye, fluctuation in vision, burning, redness, pain, or a sandy feeling in the eyes. They will then be able to direct you to an accredited dry eye center that can effectively diagnose and treat your dry eye. Gone are the days when you can be given only artificial tears and sent on your way for a year for your dryness. Artificial tears will help with some of the symptoms of dry eye but do not get to the root of the problem. Therefore, you will come back the next year feeling even more dryness. Artificial tears can cost up to $700 a year if you have two bottles (one at home and one at work) and you are using them about 4 times a day. The drops are not the same as your natural tears. They have the water and some have oil in them, but they are not the same as your natural tears. We have a new product call TrueTear™ and it stimulates new tear production from your natural glands producing oil, mucus, and water. Please contact our Dry Eye Service for more information.