Dry eye: find out what you can do to prevent it

Some call it the eye disease of the 21st century, as it is becoming more and more common. Red, burning and itchy eyes are some of the symptoms of dry eye, a problem that can be avoided or reduced by adopting certain behaviors, as optometrist Valerica Vicleanu points out.

Dry eye: find out what you can do to prevent it

The Portuguese Society of Ophthalmology calls dry eye “a major public health problem because it alters the daily activities and quality of life of the individual” and the truth is that the impact of this eye health problem on the routine of those who suffer from it is much greater than sometimes imagined. A person is said to suffer from dry eye – or dry eye syndrome – when they do not have enough tears in sufficient quantity or quality to maintain the lubrication of their eyes, which is essential for good eye health.

In recent years, mainly due to lifestyle factors (but not only, as we will see below), this problem has worsened and is now taking on alarming dimensions.

What is dry eye?

According to Valerica Vicleanu, optometrist at Nacional Óptica de Algés, “dry eye is a dysfunction of the tear film, which can encompass various factors of hormonal, environmental, inflammatory or anatomical nature.” It is a “chronic ocular irritation caused by insufficient water secretion from the lacrimal gland, which leads to the appearance of lesions on the ocular surface”, he says.

According to him, it is “a very common problem”, which would affect between 20 and 50% of the world population. Women are more affected than men, as well as the elderly, since “between 6 and 15% of the population over 65 years is symptomatic. The prevalence is high. It is estimated that “among patients who present to the ophthalmology consultation, about 25% show symptoms of dry eye and 15% are diagnosed with dry eye”.

    Symptoms to watch out for

    The main symptoms of dry eye are:
    – Sensation of sand in the eyes;
    – Burning;
    – Itching;
    – Photophobia (sensitivity to light);
    – Blurred vision;
    – Blink more often;
    – Halos around the lights;
    – Inflammation of the palpebral borders;
    – Frequent tearing;
    – Pain, which can be severe in the most severe cases.

What are the risk factors?

According to the optometrist, “the problem is increasing every year due to the aging population, increased use of certain medications and environmental irritants and allergens.” Among the risk factors for dry eyes, in addition to age and female gender, are the use of contact lenses, dry and polluted environments, exposure to heating or air conditioning systems, hormonal causes (androgen deficiency), taking certain medications (diuretics), antihistamines, benzodiazepines, antidepressants, analgesics, postmenopausal treatments and contraceptives, among others), vitamin A deficiency and the performance of certain procedures, such as bone marrow transplants, radiotherapy or refractive surgery.

Some diseases can also cause dry eyes, such as hepatitis C, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, sarcoidosis, acne rosacea, allergies, diabetes, and certain ocular pathologies, such as dysfunction of the Meibomius glands, located in the eyelids.

Yet, one of the factors that in recent decades has contributed most to the increase in dry eye cases is related to the excessive use of screens, namely computer screens, cell phones and tablets. The continuous use of these devices leads to a decrease in blinking frequency, which increases the opening of the eyelids and promotes the evaporation of tears, which eventually leads to dry eyes.

How is dry eye treated?

According to Valerica Vicleanu, “the most commonly used treatment is to use artificial tears for greater comfort and better vision, which should be placed in the eyes several times a day, as needed. Sometimes the use of this type of lubricating eye drops is not enough, and it may be necessary to use anti-inflammatory drugs, antibiotics or even occlude the tear ducts to prevent the flow of tears. In this case, it is essential to consult an ophthalmologist, as this is the specialist indicated for more serious situations.

The optometrist draws attention to cases in which there is dysfunction in the Meibomian glands, which “also implies a consultation in ophthalmology”, namely “when there is a chronic and diffuse alteration, usually characterized by obstruction of the terminal ducts and qualitative and/or quantitative changes in glandular secretion, which can lead to alteration of the tear film, with symptoms of ocular irritation, clinically apparent inflammation and ocular surface disease”.

As prevent dry eye?

In addition to using artificial tears, there are simple exercises and behaviors that can be practiced daily to help lubricate the ocular surface and reduce dryness:

  • Take 20- to 40-second eye breaks every two hours of screen use or work that uses near vision;
  • Blink slowly at least 15 times while staring at an object at infinity;
  • Practice the 20-20-20 rule, i.e., after 20 minutes of working in front of a screen, look 20 feet away (about 6 meters) and blink for 20 seconds;
  • Place the screen 50 centimeters away, slightly below the eye;
  • Work in a well-lit environment (but avoid direct lighting or any form of reflection on the screen);
  • Avoid polluted environments, spaces with air conditioning or other heating devices;
  • When outside, protect your eyes from the sun and wind with sunglasses;
  • Avoid reading at night without eye support;
  • Eat a healthy diet, including foods rich in vitamin A.

Preventing and properly treating dry eye is fundamental, because “an integrated and stable tear film is essential to maintain clear vision, good transparency of the cornea, protect the eye from external aggressions and ensure the anatomo-functional unity of the different structures of the eye and its appendages”, summarizes the health professional, who emphasizes the need to “always take care of visual health and not only when it gives warning signs”.

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