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Is Dry Eye Becoming More Common?

A woman's eyes before and after receiving dry eye treatment

Have you ever felt a stinging, burning, or scratching sensation in your eyes? Experiencing these symptoms, especially persistently, justifies a visit to your optometrist. Red, painful eyes can seem insignificant, but they’re symptoms of dry eye disease

Dry eye disease seems to be more prevalent than ever with millions of Americans experiencing symptoms, but what could be making this condition more common? Learn more about dry eye disease, including its symptoms, causes, and treatments below. 

What is Dry Eye Disease?

Dry eye disease is a common issue for many adults. Your tears protect and lubricate your eyes, and this condition affects this process. When your eyes don’t have enough moisture, they may become irritated. This can cause inflammation or damage to your eyes. 

Dry eye disease has two variants: aqueous deficient and evaporative. Both varieties have different causes, but they have similar symptoms. 

Symptoms of Dry Eye Disease

  • Red eyes
  • Watery eyes
  • Blurry vision
  • Fatigued eyes
  • Light sensitivity 
  • Burning or painful eyes
  • Mucus in or around eyes
  • Foreign object sensation 
  • Nighttime driving difficulty 
  • Difficulty wearing contact lenses

There are many symptoms of dry eye disease because of the variety of causes. The variants of dry eye disease affect your eyes in different ways.

Types of Dry Eye Disease

Aqueous deficient dry eye disease occurs when your eyes cannot produce enough tears for proper hydration. Evaporative dry eye disease occurs when your oil glands become clogged, blocked, function improperly, or are unhealthy. 

Aqueous Deficient Dry Eye Disease

Aqueous deficient dry eye disease is caused by a lack of tear production. Your eyes are hydrated by tears each time you blink and a lack of moisture can cause pain, redness, and visual issues

While aqueous deficient dry eye disease occurs from insufficient tear production, evaporative dry eye disease is caused by complications to the glands within our eyelids. 

Evaporative Dry Eye Disease 

Evaporative dry eye disease is more common and occurs when oil cannot release from the small (meibomian) glands in your eyelids. These glands produce tears to prevent the eyes from drying out. 

The glands can become blocked or clogged, causing moisture to evaporate. Meibomian glands can function improperly or produce unhealthy oil due to diet as well. 

Both variants of dry eye disease can occur for a variety of reasons. Causes can be simple such as infrequent blinking, or complex due to certain medical conditions. 

Causes of Dry Eye Disease

Understanding the types and causes of dry eye disease is important, especially when it seems this condition is more prevalent than ever. Is it becoming more common though?

A man with closed eyes caused by symptoms of dry eye irritation

Is Dry Eye Disease More Common?

Dry eye disease is a common condition and affects over 16 million Americans. Many people may be dealing with the untreated effects of dry eye disease. This condition can develop from very common experiences such as increased computer usage and age. 

This doesn’t mean dry eye disease is becoming more common though. Professionals have more understanding of dry eye disease. This allows them to diagnose and treat the condition more effectively. 

Increased Understanding & Focus

Public awareness of dry eye disease has increased over the past five years. An increased understanding and awareness of this condition is promoting more patients to seek help. Research has helped professionals understand and learn more about dry eye disease. 

A deeper knowledge of this subject can lead to new ways to treat dry eye disease, and many clinics offer dry eye therapy as a core service. This same advanced knowledge can help recognize groups of people more susceptible to this condition. Anyone can experience dry eye disease, but there are groups more at risk

Risk Factors

Several factors can increase the risk of dry eye disease, including: 

  • Age 
  • Gender
  • Diet 
  • Extended contact lens use

Regardless of your risk, your optometrist has several treatment options to relieve dry eye disease. 

Treatment of Dry Eye Disease

Eye drops aren’t the only treatment option for dry eyes anymore. Studies are finding nutritional supplementation can positively impact your eye health. New treatments for chronic dry eye disease exist as well such as intense pulsed light (IPL) and LipiFlow.  

There are several ways to relieve dry eye disease and some varieties of treatment include: 

  • Medicated eye drops
  • Punctal plugs
  • Meibomian gland expression
  • Corneal bandage
  • Lid hygiene
  • Heated eye mask
  • Nutritional supplementation
  • Intense pulsed light therapy
  • Referral to other medical specialists if needed

Your optometrist may not offer every listed treatment, but they will work with you to find the comfort you deserve. 

Contact your Optometrist 

There are multiple causes for dry eye disease and while some are easily identified, others are not. If you experience any persistent signs of dry eye disease, note your symptoms and contact your optometrist.

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  • Written by: Bryan MacDonald

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