What’s the Rub of Dry Eyes?

If having recurring headaches, most people go see a doctor. Or, for severe chest pain, it’s a rush to the emergency room. But when people are constantly rubbing their eyes, there’s no trigger of alarm. It’s just itchy eyes! But Dr. Clara Chan, Associate Professor of Ophthalmology at the University of Toronto, says it could be a problem called dry eye syndrome. Neither lethal nor curable, sufferers simply need to keep the annoyance under control.

Dr. Chan reports the sooner you see a doctor and start treatment the better the result. It’s surprising that an estimated 1 in 5 adults have personal experience with dry eye syndrome.

Dry eye syndrome is more common in women, but aging is a cause in both sexes. People may notice the condition more acutely when flying, due to dryness of the cabin air. Excessive screen time can induce irritation too, including blockage of tear ducts caused by rubbing the eyes. Long periods of looking up at computer screens and not blinking decrease lubrication of the eyes. Add to this list diabetes and thyroid disease. The result is too much salt in the eyes which triggers chronic inflammation. In time, there will be damage to the structures of the eye.

What about medication? Antidepressants and antihistamines can cause dry eyes. Indoor air can be dry, causing itchy eyes. When outdoors, it’s advisable to wear sunglasses and avoid smoky conditions. If wearing contact lens, follow the advice about hygienic care.

A visit for professional help might involve the quick fix of removing a foreign particle from the eye. Or if there’s an infection, antibiotics will be prescribed.

What’s the scenario in most cases? Dr. Clara Chan cautions that there is no cookie-cutter recipe that works for every patient. Rather, patient counselling and trying different treatment options help to identify the right treatment.

The simple measure of using a humidifier is a good start. Wearing protective eyewear on cold or windy days will help. A variety of lubricating eye-drops are available over the counter to provide speedy relief of symptoms. But if there are recurring symptoms despite these measures, see your doctor.

You may need anti-inflammatory eye-drops such as those that contain cyclosporine. Thermal or laser light therapy for your eyelids may be another option. According to a survey conducted in Canada by Dr. Chan, 20 percent of respondents were dealing with moderate dry eye disease and 70 percent had severe problems. She calculated the economic burden of disease to be $24,300 per person. That includes the costs faced by the patient for treatment and the costs to businesses and society amounting from unemployment, days of work missed, and low productivity at work.

After reading this, are your eyes itchy? Everyone should have regular eyes exams, whether to treat a mild case of dry eye syndrome or to take advantage of standard tests by ophthalmologists to diagnose more serious problems.

This is a message that bears repeating. Sore eyes are not lethal. But doctors see lives lost ever year due to patients who delay getting medical attention. Here’s the important advice: never ignore rectal bleeding or blood in the urine, a breast lump, a persistent cough, or abnormal vaginal bleeding.

And don’t fall into another potential trap. Remember, it’s not the doctor who sets the date for an appointment. If you have one of the above symptoms, never accept a delayed appointment. Why? Because it may cost you your life! Tell the scheduler what the problem is and that there is a need for urgency. If no result, try your utmost to find another doctor.

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