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Dry Eye Q&A with Dr. Richard Stegen

With our own Optometrist in West Lebanon, New Hampshire: Dr. Richard Stegen

Man with Dry Eyes

Is it true that Dry Eye symptoms seem to be more severe in the winter than in the warmer spring and summer months?

Typically this is true due to the low humidity in the winter in this climate.

When should a person come in to see their optometrist for Dry Eye symptoms and when is it enough to take care of this problem yourself?

Patients often mistake dry eye disease for other conditions like allergy or conjunctivitis or simply “tired eyes,” as their symptoms can be similar. Treatment for these conditions are different than for dry eye. For this reason I recommend patients who have any of the symptoms of burning, itching, redness, light sensitivity, watery or sticky dischage from the eyes, even variable vision, should be seen by their optometrist for evaluation. A common choice by patients is to use an eye drop which “gets the red out” (various brands.) This is not a good choice as it does not address the condition and can actually cause other problems.

What is the examination like to determine whether someone is suffering from Dry Eyes?

The examination begins with a detailed discussion between the optometrist with the patient regarding their symptoms. The doctor will then evaluate the volume and quality of the tears and examine the eyelids and the surface of the eyes, using specific dyes and, in some cases other tests designed to further evaluate the quality of the tears.

I have a friend in whose eyes are frequently overly watery. That isn’t Dry Eye, is it?

Many patients are surprised to learn that dry eye can actually cause excessive tearing, but there are several other reasons for overly watery eyes so, again, it is recommended that the patient consult their eye doctor.

What are the typical treatments used to help people suffering from Dry Eyes?

There are numerous options for treatment, depending on the type of dry eye present. In mild, intermittent cases of dry eye, simply using good quality artificial tear eye drops may be sufficient to make the patient comfortable. In more advanced cases, various prescription eye medications (drops or oral) may be appropriate. In addition, various treatments of the eyelids, which are frequently heavily involved in dry eye, may be very helpful. Applying warm compresses to the eyelids for several minutes, followed by gentle eyelid cleansing and lid massage may be recommended, Also, increasing intake of omega 3 fatty acids (via fish oil and other sources) can be very helpful in many cases. These are some of the most common treatments for dry eye, though there are more.

Are some people more prone to having Dry Eyes than others?

Yes, there are many risk factors. Women are more likely to experience dry eye, especially after menopause. Age also increases the likelihood of developing dry eye, as does significant near work, especially heavy use of electronic devices like computers, tablets, and smartphones. Exposure to extensive air conditioning or dry heat can also cause or worsen dry eye. Dry eye can also be a sign or symptom of a systemic disease like diabetes or Sjogren’s Syndrome.

Do you have any recommendations for people to help them avoid Dry Eye issues?

In New England and other colder climates, it is highly recommended that people with dry heat in winter use a humidifier to keep moisture levels up: 45% humidity or higher is recommended. It is also highly recommended that frequent breaks be taken from extensive near work, especially with computers, tablets and/or smartphones: take a five-minute break from these activities every 20-30 minutes. Avoiding cigarette smoke and protecting the eyes from wind and sun is highly recommended as well.

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