Do you feel like your eyes are slowing you down? Do you spend your days in front of the computer, only to find that your tired eyes say the day is over when there are still hours left to work? You are not alone!
Dry eye syndrome is one of the most common eye problems. People with dry eyes may experience eye fatigue, burning of the eyes, blurred vision, tearing, and sometimes headaches. They may think they have sand or something else in their eyes. They often notice these symptoms after a prolonged activity, especially if that activity is reading or working at the computer.
What is dry eye syndrome?
In a dry eye, there are insufficient tears to lubricate the eye. Tears are important for the health of the front surface of your eye and for clear vision. Dry eye can be a chronic problem. If not alleviated, advanced dry eye syndrome may damage the front surface of the eye and impact your vision.
Why do we get dry eyes?
We get dry eyes for a multitude of reasons, some of which may relate to you. Dry eyes can be aggravated by medications, primary diseases and medical conditions (people with rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, and thyroid problems are more likely to have symptoms), and hormonal factors (such as those caused by pregnancy and menopause). Dry eye may also be caused by age (it is part of the aging process), gender (women are more likely to develop dry eyes), and environmental conditions.
One major environmental cause is computer use. When people read or work at computer for a long period of time, they tend to go into a mental zone. This zoning tendency is worse if they haven’t had enough sleep. When one enters the zone, one tends to forget to blink. By failing to blink, we let our tear film evaporate, and thus become aware of that tired eye feeling.
What should you do if you have dry eye syndrome?
The best ways to alleviate dry eye are to add tears, conserve tears, and increase tears. When it comes to work, take breaks when you are working at your computer and look somewhere else for a moment. That will get you to blink. Remind yourself to take a “Blink Break.” Keep a bottle of artificial tears by you and use a drop in each eye when your eyes start to feel tired.
Other self-care steps include increasing the level of humidity in the air at work or home, wearing sunglasses to reduce exposure to wind and sun, and drinking plenty of water each day.
Some people with dry eyes might have lid issues that contribute to their symptoms. They may be helped by warm towels to their eyelids to open up glands, or by flax seed oil or antibiotics. Some people will benefit from prescription drops. Speak to your ophthalmologist about your options.
Lisa Alexander, MD, is an ophthalmologist at the University of Vermont Medical Center.