‘Drying Out’ After the New Year

By Stephen Cohen, O.D. —

“Go on that diet.” “Exercise more.” “Spend more time with my family.” “Save more money.” The start of the New Year gives us a clean slate to work with. While you’re “editing” your 2019 list of resolutions, let me add a few small things you can do on a regular basis that will enhance your most precious sense, your vision, and provide you with better comfort as well.

Our eyes are coated by a very complex protective layer of tears. Each time we blink, we recoat our eyes with new tears that help to maintain the quality of our vision. When this layer of tears is disrupted, we can experience symptoms such as irritation, burning, stinging, heaviness, fatigue, scratchiness, blur, redness, itchiness and foreign body sensation. Because their association with dry eyes is often overlooked, fatigue (especially late in the day), and blur (particularly with complaints of fluctuation of vision) need to be emphasized.

Humidity on an airplane can be as low as four percent, which may not sound that extreme to us here in the desert. In addition to our dry environment, other factors can affect our tears and our eyes. Wind, air conditioning, central heating and fans will greatly increase evaporation of our tears. Working on a computer or reading will typically decrease the rate at which you blink, leading to dryness. Certain skin disorders and diseases will affect our tears, as will many medications (e.g., antihistamines, tranquilizers, diuretics). Smoke, dust and excessive eye makeup can also irritate our eyes.

With that background, here is a list of “dry eye resolutions”:

  • Don’t wait until your eyes hurt to use artificial tears. Keep your eyes lubricated throughout the day. It is akin to preventing a fire rather than trying to put one out.
  • Carry the right type of eye drop with you. Not all drops are the same, and some that claim to treat dryness (those with vasoconstrictors to “get the red out,” and others with certain preservatives) may actually increase dry eye symptoms.
  • DRINK WATER! Although carrying bottled water has become common, most of us do not consume enough of it. A new daily standard is to consume one ounce of water for every two pounds of body weight (e.g., a 150 lb. individual should consume 75 ounces of water daily).
  • If you wear contact lenses, make sure you are using the right contact lens solution, and not just “whatever is on sale.” Some newer solutions will actually help to keep your contacts hydrated during the day. There are also new contact lens materials that are designed to help people with dry eyes. Lastly, if you travel, consider wearing your glasses on the airplane.
  • A warm, moist compress can help, which can even be done in the shower. This will help to “melt” oils that can clog certain tear glands and will also help to stimulate tear production. Optimally, you need 8–10 minutes of moist heat (more effective than dry heat) to help with the flow of these oils, but even shorter periods of time can be helpful.
  • Increase consumption of Omega-3 fatty acids (cold water fish, certain salad dressings, and supplements such as flaxseed oil and fish oil). These fatty acids are not naturally produced by our bodies, and studies are showing that these might help to decrease dry eyes. Optimally, an Omega-3 in a triglyceride form (the way it is found in nature) of at least 2000mg per day will provide anti-inflammatory benefit. Also, don’t use a combination Omega-3 that also has Omega-6s. We ingest too high a level of Omega-6s in our diet, and it is trying to balance the Omega-3s that is critical.
  • GET YOUR EYES EXAMINED. If you experience even occasional symptoms associated with dry eyes, there are tests to determine the exact cause and specific treatments that can help. A thorough review of your current systemic meds can help to uncover problems, and there are also now prescription medications and other procedures to treat the causes of dry eyes.

These simple steps can help to make 2019 even brighter, clearer, and more comfortable than last year. Now give me 50 and then get back on that Peleton!

Photo credit:  Foter.com

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