Chronic dry eyes are often due to the body’s inability to produce enough tears to keep the eyes moisturized. This could be due to a variety of issues including inflammation around the eye, contact lenses, environmental conditions, allergies, or tears evaporating too quickly. In the case of dry eye syndrome, it is a lack of adequate lubrication and moisture on the surface of the eye that causes the symptoms. Dryness and inflammation of the cornea is known as Keratitis sicca.
Fortunately, there are many treatments available for chronic dry eyes. These include medications, behavior modifications, and procedures:
1. Over-the-counter (OTC) medications
There are several medications available over the counter (without a prescription) that can be used to relieve the symptoms. The OTC options include artificial tears and ointments. While ointments may coat the eye better, it is recommended that they are only used at night as they can make vision blurry.
2. Prescription medications
If OTC medications are not effective, prescription medication may be necessary. Prescription medications may include eye drops or oral medication; these medications often include anti-inflammatories, antibiotics, or tear-stimulating drugs.
3. Natural treatments
Placing a warm wet cloth over the eyes for several minutes and then applying tear-free baby shampoo and massaging the eyelids gently can provide relief. Some research has shown that Omega-3 supplements or other anti-inflammatory supplements may help by reducing overall inflammation in the body. There are natural eye drops, some containing substances such as castor oil, that are available. It is always best to check with your physician prior to using any supplements. Acupuncture has also been used effectively in some cases.
4. Eye inserts
When medications are not effective, eye inserts may be considered. The eye insert goes into the eye (similar to the way a contact lens would be inserted) and releases medication throughout the day.
5. Behavior modifications
There are several things that can be done to improve dry eye symptoms. Blinking often or looking away frequently when reading or using a computer for a long period of time can help prevent dryness. Wearing sunglasses with side shields, especially when exposed to sun or wind) prevents evaporation of tears. Staying hydrated and using a humidifier can help add moisture to the eyes. Avoiding smoking or other environmental pollutants can also keep the eyes from drying out.
6. Medical procedures
There are a few types of medical procedures that have proven to be effective for dry eyes. The type of procedure the physician recommends will be based on the underlying cause. Possible procedure options include closing the tear ducts, clearing blocked oil glands, special contact lenses, or light therapy followed by an eyelid massage.