Categorized | Healthy Lifestyle

Dry winter air could mean dry eyes

By Steven A. Nielsen

Cold winter air means air low in humidity content. If you are experiencing symptoms like irritated, scratchy, burning eyes, excess watering or have the feeling that something is in the eye, you could be suffering from dry eye. And while environmental factors (wind, high altitude, dry air) can cause temporary dry eye, other causes include the use of certain medications, such as:

•Certain types of drugs used to treat high blood pressure;

•Antihistamines and decongestants;

•Certain anti-depressants; and

•Pain relievers, such as ibuprofen and naproxen.

Tasks that require concentration, such as working at a computer, driving, or reading can also cause temporary dry eye.

Dry eye, or keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS), is a condition in which there are insufficient tears to lubricate and nourish the eye. This condition often occurs in people who are otherwise healthy, and becomes more common as we age. While there is no prevention for dry eye, there are many treatment options available. Hot compresses, eyelash cleaning and artificial tears (wetting drops) provide relief from dry, itchy eyes. Topical corticosteroids and oral tetracycline are also available.

Quantity of tears is not the only cause of dry eye. The quality of tears matters. Tears are necessary for maintaining the health of the front surface of the eye and for providing clear vision. They reduce the risk of eye infection, wash away foreign matter, and keep the surface of the eye smooth and clear. While your eyes may be producing enough tears, the quality of the tears can contribute to dry eye. Tears are composed of three layers: oil, water and mucus. Each layer has an important function. The oil prevents evaporation of the water layer, while the mucus spreads the tears evenly over the surface of the eye. If deficient in any one area, these tears may not adequately perform their intended purpose: to keep the eye clear, clean and moist.

Before visiting an eye doctor, spend time preparing with the following:

•Write down any symptoms you are experiencing;

•Write down key personal information, such as major stresses or recent life changes;

•Make a list of all medication currently being taken, including vitamins and supplements; and

•Write down questions to ask the eye doctor, such as what is causing my dry eye? Is my dry eye temporary or chronic? What type of treatment do you recommend?

There are a wide range of treatments for dry eye. Over-the-counter or prescription artificial tears may be suggested by your eye doctor. A change in diet and increasing the amount of daily water intake may also be suggested.  Another treatment for dry eye is having tiny plugs, called Punctal Plugs, placed in the tear drainage ducts to help the tears stay on the surface of the eye. Dry eye is very treatable, and being consistent and diligent about the treatment plan prescribed will assist in alleviating the symptoms, and enable you to enjoy your day-to-day tasks.

Dr. Steven A. Nielsen is the chief ophthalmologist at The Nielsen Eye Center. To schedule a consultation or examination with Nielsen, call 617-401-8542 daily between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. or

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