Chronic dry eye isn't just a nuisance—it’s a chronic medical condition. Here’s how to get help.
Do your eyes feel so dry they sometimes sting? Does the light from your bedside lamp seem too harsh? Resting your eyes or dimming the light may seem like solutions, but those measures usually aren’t effective for people with chronic dry eye (CDE), a disease affecting 12 million Americans. Here’s what you need to know about CDE—and how to find relief!
What is CDE?
Everyone needs a healthy tear film, which lubricates the front of the eyes. Normally, your eyes release tears that provide this soothing film, which washes away dust when you blink, protects you from infection and promotes clear, comfortable vision. But if you have chronic dry eye, the tear-making process breaks down: You either do not produce enough tears or the tears you produce evaporate too quickly. Unchecked, the condition can lead to increased eye infection and inflammation, scratching and scarring on the cornea (the surface of the eye) and vision problems.
Am I at risk?
You could be, if you:
How do I know if I have it?
If you notice symptoms like a sandy feeling in the eye or constant eyestrain, schedule an eye exam right away. “Studies show that if the surface of the eye gets dry, even temporarily, cells produce more inflammatory factors—which then make you more sensitive to the drying effects of wind or indoor air blowing over your eyes,” says Stephen C. Pflugfelder, MD, of the Cullen Eye Institute at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. Tell the doctor what your eyes feel like and how the dryness is interfering with daily life (see the box for a full list of symptoms). A prompt diagnosis is the key to relieving your discomfort and preventing eye damage.
How do I get relief?
Fortunately, you don’t have to live with the stinging, dryness and eyestrain of CDE. Artificial teardrops or ointments, available over-the-counter, can offer temporary relief. Prescription drops can actually foster the eyes’ natural ability to produce tears. Another treatment requires your doctor to insert tiny silicone or gel plugs into your tear ducts to hold natural tears in your eyes longer. Finding the best option for you can really make a difference!
Know the signs of dry eye