If you’ve noticed that your eyes are a bit more sensitive lately, you’re not alone. With so many of us staring at devices throughout the day – whether it’s a computer, smartphone, or tablet – dry eye syndrome is a common (and growing) problem.
But you don’t have to resign yourself to that uncomfortable burning, itching feeling in your eyes. Here are eight effective treatment ideas to help you get relief – from over-the-counter remedies to cutting-edge procedures.
This is a simple, time-tested home remedy. Simply fill a bowl with warm water (not too hot). Place a clean washcloth in the bowl, then wring it out so it’s damp but doesn’t drip. Fold the washcloth and place it on your eyes for several minutes. When the washcloth cools, you can place it back into the water and repeat.
For mild cases of dry eye, artificial tears or other lubricating eye drops often do the trick. Just be aware of the thickness before you select one. Those with low viscosity are watery. They provide quick relief with little or no vision blurring. But you'll have to apply them more frequently. On the other hand, artificial tears with high viscosity are gel-like. They provide longer lasting relief with more significant blurring.
It’s also important to talk to your eye doctor about which brand is most suitable for your needs, since artificial tears and other over-the-counter eye drops are made with a wide variety of ingredients. You’ll want to choose the brand specifically designed for your type of dry eye condition for the best results.
PRESCRIPTION EYE DROPS
If artificial tears or other over-the-counter drops aren’t working, your optometrist may recommend prescription eye drops. In some cases, they’re used together.
- Steroid – Steroid eye drops are used short-term to manage the inflammation associated with dry eyes. They're often used as a complement to artificial tears and Restasis.
- Restasis – This prescription eye drop lubricates your eye, reduces inflammation, and helps your body produce more natural tears. You'll need to use the daily drops for at least 90 days to experience results.
- Xiidra – Like Restasis, Xiidra both lubricates the eye and reduces inflammation. Studies have shown relief in as little as six weeks of twice daily usage
For patients with moderate to severe dry eye symptoms, Lacrisert is an alternative to prescription eye drops, which many patients have difficulty administering. Lacrisert is a sterile, slow-release lubricant placed under the lower eye. It slowly liquefies over time, which creates a moistening effect all day.
Another approach to dry eye treatment is the punctal plug, which is an in-office treatment. A punctual plug is a small, sterile device inserted into one of the small openings (puncta) of tear drainage ducts. Once the plug is in place, tears can no longer drain from the eye through these ducts. That way, the tear film stays longer on the surface of the eye, relieving dry eye symptoms.
MEIBOMIAN GLAND EXPRESSION
Many dry eye cases are caused by clogs in the meibomian gland, located at the base of the eyelashes. This gland’s oil is necessary to keep the tear film from evaporating too quickly. This is called meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD), which leads to a condition called evaporative dry eye.
To treat MGD and evaporative dry eye, there’s an in-office procedure called meibomian gland expression. In this procedure, warm compresses are usually applied first. Then, the eye doctor squeezes the clogged contents from the glands. Although slightly uncomfortable, this can significantly relieve symptoms.
LIPIFLOW THERMAL PULSATION SYSTEM
A newer treatment for those with MGD is the LipiFlow Thermal Pulsation System. This device fits onto the eye, applying precisely controlled heat to the lids to soften hardened meibum. At the same time, it applies pulsed pressure to open and express clogged meibomian glands. Lipiflow treatment takes approximately 12 minutes per eye. Typically, the effects last one to three years.
INTENSE PULSED LIGHT
Dry eye can also be caused by ocular rosacea, an inflammation that causes redness, burning, and itching of the eyes. It often develops in people who have rosacea, a chronic skin condition of the face.
For patients with ocular rosacea, intense pulsed light can be an effective treatment. Your eye doctor will flash bright light onto the skin, using wavelengths that dilated blood vessels can absorb. There are typically four to six intense pulsed light treatments, with about one month in between. Many patients become less dependent on artificial tears and other eye drops to control dry eye symptoms after this therapy.
You don’t have to suffer with dry eye symptoms. If you’re not getting relief from over-the-counter eye drops or warm compresses, be sure to talk to your eye doctor. Knowing the cause of your dry eye is the first step. Then you can make an informed decision about treatment. If you want to learn what the best foods are for your overall eye health, check out our blog What Should I Eat to Protect My Eye Health?.