Although the discomfort of dry eye syndrome may not have a cure at this point, there are many ways in which it can be successfully managed, and the symptoms reduced. The right treatment option can result in fewer symptoms, greater comfort, and often clearer vision. However, because there are a number of causes that can lead to dry eye syndrome, there is a variety of treatment approaches that may be considered. If you see a doctor about dry eye, then chances are that your doctor will recommend either one, or a combination of the following treatments. However, successful treatment will require you to be willing to follow your doctor’s recommendations completely.
Artificial Tears for Dry Eye Treatment
One of the most common options for dealing with the symptoms of mild dry eye, typically caused by excessive reading or computer use, is the use of artificial tears or lubricating eye drops. There are many different brands of artificial tears that can be accessed without a prescription. Because of this, the challenge in using eye drops properly isn’t in gaining access, but choosing the right formulation for your specific needs.
Most artificial tears are available in a variety of different blends, with different levels of viscosity or thickness. Because low-viscosity tears are often watery and light, they can offer fast-paced relief without blurring or obstructing your vision. However, the problem with these drops is that their impact is generally short lived. Alternatively, artificial tears that come with a higher viscosity are generally thicker, and more like a gel or cream. However, while the results of these drops often last for much longer, they can cause significant blurring in the vision, which is why some people regard them to be a bad choice for through-the-day use when they may need to drive or work.
Most people find that the ingredients used in different eye drops help to offer some insight into what those drops should be used to treat. Different brands can be more effective for different ailments, so it’s worth looking into your chosen drops in depth before purchasing them. If your doctor recommends that you specifically use one or more different formulations of artificial tears to deal with your dry eye problem, make sure that you carefully follow the instructions that he or she gives you regarding how frequently you should be using them.
Restasis or Allergen
If your dry eye problem goes beyond the mild discomfort that can often be fixed by over the counter eye drops or artificial tears, then your doctor might prescribe you a medication drop that you can use on a daily basis. These drops are known as Restasis, or Allergen, and they are capable of doing far more than simply lubricating the surface of the eye. These drops include a medicated agent that can work to reduce the inflammation that is often typical in dry eye syndrome, helping your body to produce more natural tears in order to keep the eyes healthy and comfortable.
Crucially, however, it’s worth noting that the impact of Restasis is not immediate, and patients must expect to use the drops for at least ninety days if they want to experience the full benefits of this treatment. Significantly, many people who try Restasis will actually feel burning in their eyes during the first weeks of treatment.
In recent years, doctors have begun to realize the role of inflammation in the development of dry eyes. Inflammation is often responsible for causing the burning, stinging, and redness that are associated with a dry eye condition, but some people experience inflammation without any symptoms at all. Artificial tears may reduce the appearance of redness, but will not address the inflammatory causes behind the issue, meaning that your doctor may need to prescribe steroids as a way of better managing the condition.
Usually, steroid-based eye drops will be used on a short-term basis to manage symptoms as quickly as possible, and they may be used alongside other treatment solutions such as Restasis, as a complement to more long-term strategies. While a small amount of the steroid is absorbed systemically, most candidates will not experience any steroidal symptoms beyond the eye. Keep in mind, however, that steroid eye drops can increase your risk of suffering from cataracts or high eye-pressure when used for extended time periods.
Lacrisert is a slow-release lubricant that can be placed underneath the lower eye where the conjunctiva of the eyeball meets the conjunctiva of the inside eyelid. Lacrisert is a form of solid insert composed of a lubricating agent that liquefies slowly over time to continue moisturizing the eye throughout the day. Most people with dry eyes will only apply a single Lacrisert a day, and this can help to relieve burning, light sensitivity, and dryness.
Punctal plugs can sometimes be used in the treatment of dry eye to help tears linger on the eye surface for a longer period of time. These plugs are small devices which can be surgically inserted into the tear drainage ducts. Once the ducts are plugged, the tears will no longer be able to drain from the eye and this allows the tear film to stay in place for longer.
Meibomian Gland Expression
Much of the time, the symptoms associated with dry eye syndrome are caused as a result of inadequate meibum or oil secreted from the eye glands. These glands are located near the base of the eyelashes, and if they become clogged, they can lead to a condition known as Meibomian gland dysfunction, which leads to evaporative dry eye.
To treat this issue, a doctor can use warm compresses followed by a set of special forceps which can squeeze hardened meibum and other substances out of the Meibomian glands.
A more comfortable alternative to opening Meibomian glands is to simply apply warm compresses to the eyelids to soften the hardened meibum. However, for these compresses to work well, you might have to apply a significant amount of heat for at least ten minutes, twice a day. As a result, most people are unable to perform this form of self-treatment effectively.
IPL (Intense Pulsed Light)
For some time now, the FDA has approved the use of IPL or intense pulsed light for the treatment of rosacea, which can often occur on the eyelid and lead to dry eye syndrome. In a treatment of IPL, handheld devices are used to flash bright light over the skin, allowing wavelengths to be absorbed only by the dilated blood vessels. The effect of the treatment may be the resolution of any dilation or inflammation.
After IPL therapy, many patients have found that they experience long-term relief from dry eye syndrome that allows them to be less dependent on artificial tears and other drops. However, most patients will require a course of at least four to six treatments given through pulsed light in order to properly manage symptoms. Typically, these treatments do not lead to any downtime, and are not painful or uncomfortable.
Sometimes, doctors recommend that patients take nutritional supplements as part of a holistic treatment for dry eye syndrome. In some cases, studies have found that omega-3 fatty acid supplements can help to decrease the symptoms of dry eye syndrome. Drinking more water on a regular basis can also be incredibly helpful, as mild dehydration is often responsible for making the symptoms of dry eye worse. This can be particularly true in climates where the weather is often hot, dry, or windy.
Home Remedies and Simple Changes
If the symptoms of dry eye that you are experiencing are very mild, there are a number of things you may be able to do to access relief before visiting the eye doctor. For instance, blinking more frequently when using a smartphone, computer, or other digital device can help to reduce issues of dry eye, as can:
• Frequently taking breaks when using computers and other digital devices. A good rule of thumb is to look away from the screen at least every twenty minutes.
• Treat existing eyelid conditions. If you have Meibomian gland dysfunction, blepharitis, or other conditions that effect the eyelids, treating these issues should be addressed when attempting to reduce the symptoms of dry eye.
• Adjusting medication. Many medications, including antidepressants, antihistamines, birth control pills, and some blood pressure medications can lead to the worsening of dry eye. Be sure to discuss whichever medications you are taking with your doctor to see whether he or she could recommend a better alternative.
• Reducing contact lens wear. If you frequently wear contact lenses, you may struggle to determine whether an underlying condition is causing your discomfort, or your contact lenses are actually responsible for your dry eye syndrome.
Resources and References:
Dry eyes – General information about treatments and medications used for dry eye syndrome. (Mayo Clinic)
A Complete Guide to Dry Eye Syndrome – Covers the basics of dry eye syndrome, including causes, treatments, and risk factors. (EyeHealthWeb.com)
Dry Eye Syndrome Treatment & Management – Information about approaches to dry eye treatment. (Medscape)
Treatments for Dry Eye Disease – Simple options for dry eye disease treatment, such as environmental and dietary adjustments. (The Discovery Eye Foundation)