Dear Savvy Senior
What all can be done to combat dry eyes? Since I turned 50, my eyes have become increasingly dry and irritated.
Dry eyes is a common problem that affects more than one-third of middle-aged and older Americans. But you don’t have to just put up with it. There are lifestyle adjustments and multiple treatment options available today to keep your eyes moist and healthy. Here’s what you should know.
Dry Eye Issues
Dry, red, irritated eyes are one of the most common reasons for visits to the eye doctor, but discomfort isn’t the only problem of dry eyes. Light sensitivity and blurred or fluctuating vision are common problems too, and worse yet, dry eyes are more likely to get scratched or infected, which could damage your vision permanently.
The reason people get dry eyes are because they either don’t produce enough tears to keep their eyes properly lubricated, or because they produce poor quality tears.
In some cases dry eyes can be triggered by medical conditions such as diabetes, thyroid diseases, allergies, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and Sjogren’s syndrome. It can also be brought on by age (tear production tends to diminish as we get older), eye conditions, eyelid problems, certain medications, environmental factors and even LASIK and cataract surgery. Dry eyes are also more common in women, especially after menopause.
The first step experts recommend in dealing with dry eyes is to check your lifestyle and surroundings for factors that might be contributing to the problem and make adjustments:
• Avoid blowing air: Keep your eyes away from air vents, hair dryers, oscillating and ceiling fans and consider buying a home humidifier.
• Blink more: When you’re reading, watching television, or using a smartphone, tablet or computer, take frequent breaks because these activities cause you blink less often.
• Avoid irritants: Avoid smoke-filled places and if you swim, wear goggles to cut down exposure to chemicals.
• Use protection outside: When you go outdoors, use sunglasses that wrap around the sides of your face to protect yourself from sun, glare, wind, and dust.
• Check your meds: Dozens of prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs like antihistamines, decongestants, diuretics, beta-blockers, antidepressants, tranquilizers, and Parkinson’s medications can all cause dry eyes. If you’re taking any of these, ask your doctor about alternatives.
• Get more omega-3s: Studies show that eating more fish and other foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids (or take a supplement) helps some people.
If adjusting your environment and habits doesn’t do the trick, there are a variety of OTC artificial tears that can help. If you experience a lot of burning, try another product or opt for a preservative-free formula. If your dry-eye is persistent, use gel-containing drops like Refresh, Systane and GenTeal. The gel will keep your eyes lubricated for longer periods. If you need a product that’s even longer lasting, consider OTC lubricating ointments like Refresh PM.
If the lifestyle and OTC treatments don’t help, see an ophthalmologist. He or she can offer additional advice and may prescribe a medication. There are several FDA approved medications for dry eye including Xiidra and Restasis, and one in development called Lacripep.
If your dry eye is severe and does not improve, you doctor might recommend a simple office procedure that plugs the small openings (tear ducts) that drain tears away from the eyes. Blocking these openings with punctual plugs keeps tears in place longer.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or go to SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.