March 18th, 2011
12:38 PM ET
The symptoms of dry eye are all too familiar to millions of Americans- the stinging, the burning, the feeling that something is in your eye when it is not and times when the vision seems blurry. Fortunately, saying goodbye to Old Man Winter and hello to spring may ease the symptoms for some people who suffer from dry eye.
"When the heat goes off and the air conditioning has not come on yet, patients will sometimes have some relief, especially on nice muggy days," said Dr. Stephanie Marioneaux, an ophthalmologist in Chesapeake, Virginia, and clinical correspondent for the American Academy of Ophthalmology .
But Marioneaux added that for people with dry eye, seasonal allergies may seem worse because the eyes do not have enough tears to dilute things like pollen that get in them.
She said that the two conditions are often confused because the symptoms of dry eye, irritation and burning, are often relieved by rubbing.
"If it feels better when you rub it, it is often dry eyes. If it itches it's often allergic," she said. "We strongly discourage eye rubbing, which can worsen some of the symptoms of allergies and, in time, deform the cornea."
"So if your eyes feel dry, try artificial tears," she advises. "If that does not give you relief, see your ophthalmologist. If you have a condition that's causing it, you want to treat the underlying condition. You wouldn't want to miss something."
We need tears to cleanse our eyes and they're necessary for clear vision. They also contain proteins, electrolytes and vitamins and protect our eyes from infection. Dry eye occurs when the tears either do not form, evaporate too quickly, or don't have all the necessary components to develop. A doctor can test your rate of tear production to see if you have dry eye.
According to the National Eye Institute (NEI), dry eye can affect people of any age. The NEI estimates 5 million people in the U.S. have dry eye; women are disproportionately affected. That's because hormonal changes can affect tear production as well as in women. However, the symptoms may be a part of lupus, Sjogren's syndrome or rheumatoid arthritis.
Dr. Ira Udell in Long Island, New York, also a clinical correspondent for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, offers these tips once a diagnosis of mild dry eye is made:
* Try eliminating (or altering) factors in your environment, like smoke or a dry, windy location- even air conditioning blowing across your face- that can aggravate the symptoms. Certain medications, including antihistamines, birth control pills and antidepressants can also cause dryness.
* Use artificial tears. The thinner ones tend not to last as long in relieving symptoms as the thicker ones, but the thicker ones tend to blur vision. One containing eye whitener is not recommended for use on a chronic basis. If the artificial tears are irritating your eyes, try a preservative-free kind.
* Fish oil, omega fatty acids, and flaxseed may make a subtle difference. Consult with your doctor before taking these.
* Consider your doctor putting in something called a punctal plug in the tear drainage canals in each eyelid. These can be temporary or permanent. They try to preserve the tears that you are able to make by reducing the amount of tears draining from your eye.
* One FDA-approved prescription drug is available, Restasis eye drops.
Udell stresses that overall, mild dry eye is not a serious condition. However, patients need to make sure their symptoms are not due to something else.
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