How to Treat Dry Eye During Summer
Dry eye can cross the spectrum from feeling slightly irritating to a serious eye concern. It’s a common disease that can be evaluated and treated by our doctors at ICON Eyecare.
Symptoms of dry eye may differ from person to person and any of these conditions require evaluation by your eye doctor.
- Irritated or ‘gritty’ eyes
- Highly sensitive to smoke
- Sore eyes that need rubbing
- Blurry eyesight
- Burning sensation
- Continuously red eyes
- Feeling pain when you first open your eyes in the morning
What is Dry Eye Disease?
Dry eye disease is a result of the body not producing enough tears or the tears not consisting of the right mix of components. There are three types of tears produced by your tear glands. These include basal tears (regularly lubricating), reflex tears (irritant-producing) and emotional tears (psychic response). Reflex tears are caused by irritants coming into contact with your cornea. These can include things like dust or sandy grit, smoke particulates or even makeup. Emotional tears are caused by pain, joy, sentiment or any other psychic trigger.
Your natural basal tears are composed of three layers. The Inner Mucin Layer is made up of a light film of mucus that coats the eye’s surface. This substance helps spread the water layers evenly over the eye. The Middle Aqueous Layer is the thickest layer. It contains saline as well as other vitamins and minerals to keep the eye nourished. It is also responsible for the majority of the actual tear volume. The Outer Lipid Layer is mostly oil based. When functioning correctly, this layer keeps much of the water from evaporating or dying too quickly.
Dry eyes occur when there is an imbalance in these three layers. This can be the result of irritants or a medical condition. Your tears are necessary for good eye health and it’s important to have quality lubricants on the cornea at all times.
Epiphora or “Wet Eyes”
A condition called wet eyes can be a sign of reduced basal tear quality. Basal tears serve as the principal lubricant protection of the eye. If the body is producing “watery” tears, it can wash out the protections that basal tears provide.
What Causes Dry Eye?
Many people develop dry eyes as they age. Most people 65 or older develop some symptoms. Women tend to suffer from chronic dry eyes more than men. Many prescription medicines can contribute as well. Antihistamines, certain decongestants and some antidepressants can also exacerbate symptoms of dry eye.
Diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and some thyroid problems can contribute to dry eyes. Blepharitis (or inflammation of the eyelids) can cause symptoms to develop.
Bacterial infections can be the culprit.
Wearing contact lenses for long periods of time can result in dry eyes. Seasonal allergies, pet dander, and other irritants are all factors contributing to dry eye and require discussion with your eye doctor.
Why Is Dry Eye Worse During Summer Months?
Symptoms of dry eye tend to be more pronounced during the summer months. If you live in an area with low humidity, the tears your body makes will evaporate more quickly. People also become more dehydrated under the hot summer sun which contributes to the body making less tears. Running the air conditioner with a high fan setting in a car or residence forces air around the environment and evaporates your body’s natural tears. Higher humidity in some areas during the summer months may alleviate some of the symptoms of dry eye but this isn’t always the case.
If you work outside near a lot of dust or smoke, or if you grill outside and get smoke from cooking in your eyes, this can cause irritation and dry eyes. Swimming pool chemicals can affect the tear production as well as too much sunlight reflecting off of the pool water. Even a brisk wind can dry out your eyes.
Dry eye is more pronounced during summer outdoor activities where all the allergens, irritants, wind and sun come together for the worst conditions for the eyes.
How to Prevent Dry Eye in Summer Months
You may have to take special care during summer months to prevent and treat dry eye with the increase in environmental factors ramping up the symptoms.
1. Wear Sunglasses
Recognize that bright sunlight, searing hot wind, and airborne allergens are major causes of dry eye. Wearing a quality pair of sunglasses that are oversized or “wrap around” is a good way to lessen the effects of the UV rays and wind on your eyes.
2. Stay Hydrated
Dry eye can be exacerbated simply by not drinking enough water. Staying hydrated is a good preventive strategy to ward off the gritty feeling of dry eyes. Try to drink at least 96 ounces (12 cups) each day.
3. Take Omega-3 Fish Oil
According to the National Institute of Health, a recent study showed a lower risk for dry eye among people ingesting omega-3 fatty acids by eating fish. Doctors recommend fish oil capsules or eating fish to consume omega-3 fatty acids for lower inflammation and better results for eye lubrication.
4. Use Warm Compress
When eyes become irritated, use a warm compress. Dampen a clean washcloth with warm water and place it on your eyes for 5-10 minutes at a time, relaxing and stimulating your tear ducts while adding moisture to the area. This helps improve the oil layer of the tear film mentioned above to reduce evaporation of the aqueous layer of tears.
5. Avoid Chlorine Pool Water
Enjoying a swimming pool is a major benefit of the summer months, but it’s important to wear goggles under the water to reduce exposure and never wear contacts in the pool.
6. Use Special Contact Lenses
There are many varieties of special contact lenses made specifically for dry eye and available at ICON Eyecare. Your contact lens solution may also be contributing to the problem. Talk to your doctor about acquiring contacts and solutions specifically for dry eye.
7. Try Lubricating Eye Drops
Over the counter (OTC) eye drops can help to offset mild symptoms of dry eye during the summer, but some may need prescription strength versions of lifitegrast (Xildra) or cyclosporine (Restasis).
Consult one of our eye doctors before trying over the counter eye drops or other eye medications. Just as there are many possible causes of dry eyes, there are many treatment options best determined by your doctor.
Take care of your eyes during the summer months and you’ll have a more enjoyable time with your family and friends enjoying the outdoor activities.