DRY EYES: It happens to many people.
DRY EYES: It happens to many people. fizkes

Get to know the causes and solutions for eye dryness

DRY eye, which is common to older people, can be caused by any number of things so just popping some eye drops in your eyes won't necessarily be the best treatment choice.

Optometry Australia's resident optometrist Sophie Koh says there are probably underlying issues causing this condition. "It might be some lid disease or inflammation that needs to be treated," she said. "The tear glands within your lid might be blocked or inflamed."

Other causes could be dietary and systemic health problems such as Sjogren's or auto-immune disease, thyroid, diabetes or acne rosacea, for example.

An optometrist will talk to a senior about these possible contributing factors plus look at the home and work environments, diet, general health, prolonged exposure to eye irritants and even eye trauma.

Dry eye occurs when insufficient tears are produced. Those tears keep the eye lubricated. Every time you blink a thin film of tears are swept over the eye surface. The tears should remain in tack between blinks. If your eye doesn't produce enough tears to keep the eye surface moist or the tears don't stay on the eyes long enough, this can result in the eyeball surface becoming damaged.

Crusting on eyelids

Blepharitis, as it is known, is common in seniors. It is characterised by a chronic inflammation of the eyelids. The eyes will feel irritated and crusting of your eyelid and lashes can occur.

"If seniors wake up in the morning and their eyes are stuck together or itchy or have what we call sleep in the eye, that is crusting," Ms Koh said. This happens when the eye is unable to flush away the grit that accumulates around the eye while we are sleeping.

Get professional advice

While using across the counter eye drops seems a simple solution, they won't fix the underlying problem. The eyelids may need cleaning, or blocked glands cleared by an optometrist, or there may be other health and environmental issues causing dry eyes.

It really is best to visit the optometrist in the first instance before trying any self-medication strategies.

They will look at various treatment options including cleaning the eyelids, using tear duct plugs and other strategies.

Applying a hot compress or hot towel on the eyelid is another way the optometrist may suggest for getting the tear glands working better.

Self-medication

Some of the options are:

  • Eye drops, gels or ointments to lubricate the surface of the eye.
  • Wash and gently massage your eyelids while in a warm shower.
  • Increase the humidity in the air at home and work by placing bowls of water around the room to evaporate.
  • Check with your GP if your medications have side-affects that include dry eyes.
  • Practice blinking more often, especially when in front of a computer.

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