Dry, itchy, burning eyes are symptoms of dry eye disease (DED), a condition initially believed to afflict mainly individuals over the age of 55. DED occurs when there is an underproduction of tears and/or faster-than-normal evaporation of tears from the surface of the eyes. This causes feelings of pressure behind the eye, a sensation that something is on the eye, and possible sensitivity to light. These symptoms vary in intensity from a mild annoyance, to a more severe pain.
What exactly causes the imbalance between tear production and evaporation is unclear and appears to be multi-factorial. Some factors which are thought to contribute to DED include:
- Aging (aging slows down natural tear production);
- Various medical conditions (such as some autoimmune diseases);
- The use of some antihistamine and antidepressant medications;
- Eye strain (e.g. when focusing on a computer screen);
- Prolonged exposure to dry or extreme climates.
Is DED undiagnosed among younger individuals?
Technological factors are believed to contribute to dry eye symptoms or even DED in younger populations. For instance, contact lens use and LASIK corrective eye surgery have been associated with a drying of the eyes. Furthermore there has been an increase in the use of computers and similar hand-held devices which cause strain on the eyes, and people are spending more time indoors in dry climate-controlled environments (furnaces and air conditioning take moisture out the air). As a result, it is believed that many more individuals may be suffering from symptoms than once estimated.
Fortunately, the majority of cases of DED are mild and can be treated with lifestyle modifications and over the counter treatments (i.e. eye drops). Some tips to alleviate symptoms include:
- Giving your eyes a break when performing tasks that require focus. Try some purposeful blinking to re-lubricate your eyes. Or you can close your eyes for 10 seconds, as needed
- Avoid extremely hot, cold, and smoky environments
- If you are indoors, turn up the humidifier to increase the moisture in the air
- Talk to your optometrist or ophthalmologist about other treatment options
**It is important to seek medical attention for symptoms of DED since chronic dry eyes can lead to abrasions on the surface of the eyes and possibly compromise vision**