Dear Dr. Garner,
I am really exasperated. Every day, particularly in the late afternoon, I get a stinging or burning in my eyes. My eyelids feel so heavy. I have a hard time sitting at the computer or reading as much as I would like. My eyes get tired and I tend to fall asleep. The “Sandman” seems to visit my eyes all day, not just at night. Have you ever heard of anything like this?
Irritated Eyes in Sheepshead Bay
While it is hard to make a diagnosis without seeing you, it sounds very much as though you are experiencing the effects of “dry eye.” Dry eye occurs when the eye either does not make enough tears or the tears are of poor quality and do not provide enough moisture. The surface of the eye may become irritated and inflamed. If it is not treated, then a person can develop pain, irritation, scarring and even loss of vision.
As you pointed out, dry eye can make it difficult to perform even the most common tasks, such as reading or even driving. Dry eyes are more likely to occur in certain situations such as on an airplane, in an air-conditioned room, while riding a bicycle or looking at a computer screen for long periods of time.
The more common symptoms of dry eye include: eye tiredness, difficulty wearing contact lenses, blurred vision, increased eye irritation, stinging, burning and scratchiness.
Some medications can also cause dry eye. These include antihistamines, decongestants, hormone replacements and medications used to treat high blood pressure.
In addition, air blowing in the eyes from air conditioners or fans can cause the eyes to become dry.
People who are more likely to experience dry eye include:
1. Senior citizens
3. Laser eye surgery patients
4. Those undergoing radiation
5. Those consuming diets low in vitamin A and omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in vegetables and salmon, respectively.
While waiting for your appointment to see a doctor you can use over- the-counter eye drops, sometimes known as liquid tears. Look for those that give the eye lubrication and avoid those that promise to reduce redness. These often contain materials which cause irritation of the eye.
It is important to have a full eye examination for the doctor to make a diagnosis of dry eye. The doctor can measure the volume as well as the quality of the tears. As mentioned above, just having a decreased amount of tears does not explain the cause.
There are many different treatments for dry eye, including those that involve medication and surgical procedures. It is important to discuss these options with your doctor. Some new laser therapies or prescription eye drops or antibiotics can be used. There are also materials that block the tear ducts and cause the tears to stick around longer.
Here are some suggestions that may help dry eye:
• Caffeine. Some recent studies have shown that after drinking caffeinated beverages, tear volume increases. This is something to discuss with your doctor.
• It is important, particularly in the wintertime, to have a humidifier which can add moisture to the eyes.
• Take frequent eye breaks. If you are reading or doing a project, take breaks. Blink your eyes for a few seconds to help spread your tears evenly.
• Speak to your doctor when preparing for a plane flight as the air in the plane can be extremely drying.
• Put your computer below eye level. This way you will be able to open your eyes wider to view the screen. This may help slow the evaporation of the tears, and reduce fatigue.
• Avoid smoke.
I hope that these suggestions are helpful to you. Please keep me posted of your progress.
Dr. Garner is a Fidelis Care provider who is affiliated with New York Methodist Hospital, Park Slope. He also hosts “Ask the Doctor” on NET TV, Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on Time Warner Channel 97, Cablevision Channel 30 and Verizon FiOS on Demand.