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How do I soothe my dry eyes?

Dr. Michelle Calder-Cardwell is the owner and lead optometrist at
Urban Optiques Vision & Eyewear in Northville, MI.

Q. Lately my eyes have become dry and scratchy feeling when I blink. How can I soothe my irritated eyes?

A. Every time you blink, your healthy eyes get a bath from a fluid that's a combination of oil, water, and mucus. This fluid, or tears, helps protect and moisturize the eyes. When something irritates your eyes or interferes with the production of tears, it can result in irritated dry eyes that are vulnerable to corneal abrasions.

Dry eyes are actually very common. More than 20 million Americans suffer from this annoying and sometimes painful condition. If you think you have dry eyes, check out some of these common symptoms and possible causes. Once you understand the culprit, you can begin to make changes to relieve your burning eyes, once and for all.

Symptoms:

  • Dry, itchy, or burning eyes
  • A scratching sensation, or feeling like there's grit in the eyes
  • Sensitivity to light causing squinting and blinking
  • Difficulty focusing because of dryness
  • Both eyes are usually affected
  • Watery eyes (a little known fact!)

Causes:

  • Dry air caused by indoor heaters
  • Allergies
  • Some medications like antihistamines, antidepressants, and birth-control pills
  • Poor fitting or dirty contacts
  • Long hours spent reading or staring at a computer screen
  • Blocked tear ducts

Solutions:

  • Avoid drafts and use a humidifier to put moisture back into dry air.
  • If allergies are causing your eyes to itch and dry out, try lubricating, preservative-free eye drops formulated for people with allergies.
  • Check the side effects of your medications. If you're taking one that causes dry eyes, your doctor may need to change your prescription, or she may recommend that you begin using eye drops to lubricate your eyes.
  • Don't wear your contacts for too long, keep them clean, and always wash your hands before handling them.
  • Take frequent breaks from computer work or reading, and keep your eyes lubricated by remembering to blink often.

Helpful Tips:

  • For a refreshing sensation, cool your eye drops in the refrigerator about an hour before using them.
  • Check expiration dates on your eye drops.
  • Never share eye drops.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Wear sunglasses outside to protect your eyes from wind and sun.
  • Take an omega-3 fatty-acid supplement; shown to restore lipids-they're a key component of tears.

With a few simple changes you should begin to notice a real improvement. If after one month your eyes are still bothering you, make sure to see your eye doctor—severe cases can lead to eye damage and vision loss. During your eye exam, your doctor can check for vision problems and signs of health conditions that could be causing your dry eyes. An accurate diagnosis is important because symptoms of dry eye can be caused by other things like allergies or uncorrected refractive error or astigmatism.