Dry eyes are the worst. They can make you feel tired even when you’ve had enough sleep. They can result in an itchiness that is impossible to scratch. They can even cause problems while driving, making vision blurry, especially at night. Oh, and if you’re a contact lens wearer, you’re in a whole other world of trouble.
Unfortunately, many of us experience dry eyes. In fact, it affects millions of people in the UK – and numbers have soared during lockdown. Research by Nicola Alexander-Cross, optometrist and co founder of Peep Club, of 250 people found that 80% were suffering from the condition – and it only gets worse if left untreated.
But why do our eyes get dry in the first place? And what can we do to relieve it? Here, we asked the opticians and ophthalmologist for everything you need to know about dry eyes.
What are the symptoms of dry eyes?
“Dry Eyes encompasses everything from mild irritation (itchiness, a tired and heavy feeling, or overly watery eyes) to severe and even sight threatening issues,” explains Nicola.
If left untreated, you may notice mucus collecting around the eyes, sensitivity to light, a scratchy feeling as if you have something in your eye and blurred vision.
Why are my eyes so dry?
There are a number of reasons why your eyes could be dry, from hormone imbalances to lifestyle habits. “Dry Eyes has long-affected millions of women, especially those in peri-menopause and menopause
as it’s linked to hormonal changes,” explains Nicola. There are a range of hormones that can effect the eyes, including the female sex hormone oestrogen. As women age, the levels of oestrogen in their blood decreases, which causes dry skin and dry eyes. Eyes can also become dry at the end of your period, when oestrogen levels are low. Although irritating, this cause of dry eyes is temporary and can be relieved with over the counter medicines and eye drops from your local pharmacy. If, however, it really bothers you, talk through the issue with you doctor.
Another common cause is too much screen time. According to recent findings by Ocushield Research, Brits spend a shocking 9 hours, 10 mins per day on digital screens compared to 4 hours, 10 mins socialising, eating and reading. “Blue light stimulates the brain and eyes and suppresses the production of melatonin – a hormone we produce to naturally regulate our sleep cycles,” explains Dhruvin Patel, optometrist and founder of Ocushield. “Eye strain, headaches, dry eyes and blurry vision are also common side-effects from too much screen time.”
“You blink 6-8 times less when you look at a screen, so your eyes are literally becoming parched as you work all day long,” adds Nicola. Considering screen use has increased by 187% during the last three lockdowns, it’s hardly surprising that more people than ever are experiencing dry eyes.
Other causes include increased tear evaporation, which is when the oil-producing glands on the edge of your eyelids become blocked or clogged, making our tears more easily and more rapidly evaporate. This condition is more common in people who have rosacea, work in dry or dusty environments, or have a vitamin A deficiency.
How can I cure dry eyes?
Unfortunately, treating dry eyes is not as simple as using eye drops (although they can provide short-term relief). Effective treatment will require the underlying cause to be addressed, which is a slightly harder feat.
The best place to start is with an eye exam at your opticians to check up on your vision and sight. Next, you can start to consider whether lifestyle factors like screen time could be having an effect. It could be useful to keep a diary of your symptoms so you can figure out when it’s worse and try and find the common factors.
If screen time if the issue, try and reduce the amount of time you spend exposed to blue light – especially before bed. Obviously, this is easier said than done as our whole lives depend on screens. Another option if you have an iPhone is to turn on “Night Shift” mode in the Display & Brightness settings, and amping up the warmth to reduce exposure to blue light. Then there’s the Ocushield, which is a blue light screen protector registered as a medical device in the UK, that filters out blue light without affecting your screen’s display, or need to be turned on or off.
If you suspect increased tear evaporation to be the issue, try a warm compress over the eyes to try and unblock to glands, or Peep Club have a clever Heated Eye Wand, which uses a combination
of heat and massage to gently unblock the glands. “It’s like a hot stone massage for the eyes,” says Natasha. Plus, the wand also offers circulation-encouraging and lymphatic drainage functions, and red light LED therapy to de-puff and boost collagen production.
Other than that, make sure you are eating a diet rich in omega oils and Vitamin A, from foods like leafy greens, orange and yellow fruits and vegetables, and oily fish. If the problem still persists, and if at any point you’re worried or notice any changes to your vision, seek immediate medical advice.