Dry eye disease affects countless people in the Los Angeles area and worldwide, causing vision disturbances and eye discomfort. Studies show that dry eye disease affects quality of life by limiting workplace productivity, daily activities, physical comfort, and social life. Chronic dry eye disease has a substantial economic impact on patients, and treating this progressive condition is crucial to restoring visual function and improving quality of life.
At Laser Eye Center™, we take pride in being the best of the best, and part of our success is due to our dedication to patient education. Our ophthalmologists have performed more than 500,000 successful procedures and built decades-long relationships with our patients and community in Los Angeles and Southern California. We have the trust of our patients and peers because we are a leader in advanced techniques and technologies, offering state-of-the-art diagnosis and treatment.
How Common Is Dry Eye Disease?
The American Academy of Ophthalmology found that dry eye symptoms accounted for around 30% of patients seeking treatment from an ophthalmologist.
Dry eye is one of the most common eye conditions, affecting an estimated 17% of people worldwide. However, the numbers vary by demographic. The prevalence of dry eye disease may be as high as 73.5% in some geographic regions and affects up to 30% of people of Asian descent. Women are more likely to have dry eye disease (22%) than men (12%). However, location and profession can affect these odds. People living in dry climates or working in windy or dusty conditions are more likely to have dry eyes.
The estimated prevalence of dry eyes may be much higher when you consider that young patients and men are more likely to go undiagnosed because they do not look like the typical dry eye patient.
What Causes Dry Eyes?
Dry eye disease happens when the eye’s surface has insufficient tear quality or quantity, meaning you don’t make enough tears, or there’s something wrong with the three layers that make up your tear film. Normally, the meibomian glands that line the edge of your eyelids secrete the oil (lipid) layer, and the lacrimal gland above the eye creates the water (aqueous) portion of the tear film. The third layer is mucous (mucin) formed from conjunctival goblet cells that contain mucins, water, and electrolytes.
The oil layer from the meibomian glands prevents the water layer from evaporating too quickly, and mucin evenly distributes the tears over the eye. If tears evaporate too quickly or don’t spread evenly, dry eye symptoms happen, including eye redness, irritation, gritty sensations, and blurry vision.
Some people are more at risk for dry eyes, including:
- People 50 and older.
- Contact lens wearers.
- People with Vitamin A deficiency.
- Those with autoimmune conditions.
Environmental Concerns That Worsen Dry Eyes
People in the Los Angeles area have several risk factors for dry eyes. The desert climate and ocean create the perfect storm for the wind to pick up dust and debris. Particles in the air from agriculture can affect eye health, especially for people with eye allergies, such as pollen. Exposure to smoke, wind, and dry air increases tear evaporation, causing or worsening dry eye symptoms. Air pollution around the city compounds these issues, and heavy traffic causes people to stare into bright sunlight during long drives. Our L.A. patients often work jobs that require excessive screen time, which reduces blink rates and contributes to dry eyes.
Understanding these environmental risk factors for dry eyes helps us diagnose and treat the condition. Our eye doctors can develop a treatment plan and identify lifestyle changes or accommodations to lower the frequency, severity, and progression of environmental dry eye disease.
Meibomian Gland Dysfunction Linked to Screen Time
Meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD) happens when the eyelid glands become clogged or blocked, decreasing or stopping the secretion of meibum (oil). When tear film doesn’t have enough oil, tears evaporate too quickly and cause eye irritation and eyelid swelling.
Researchers have found that increased screen time is connected to:
- Meibomian gland dysfunction, accounting for 86% of dry eye cases.
- Meibomian gland atrophy, which causes the glands to degenerate or waste away.
- Meibomian gland tortuosity, where the glands twist, bend, or turn and affect gland function.
These concerns impact tear quality and increase eye irritation. The risk of MGD with screen time affects the Los Angeles population because local professions involve long hours in front of a computer screen or tablet. Considering dry eye symptoms can decrease work productivity, this is an issue for our ambitious patients with big dreams or successful careers in Hollywood.
Dry Eye Symptoms
Dry eye disease causes several symptoms, including:
- Red Eyes: Chronic eye inflammation caused by insufficient tears or poor tear quality dries out the surface and causes eye redness.
- Swollen Eyelids:The eye and eyelids may experience inflammation with dry eyes, especially in meibomian gland dysfunction, where the glands are irritated by blockages.
- Burning Eyes: Disruptions in the tear film cause burning sensations because the eye’s surface is not properly lubricated, leading to watery eyes and itchiness. The eyes may sting or burn more than usual in dry climates or high altitudes, such as airplanes or hiking trails.
- Scratchy Feeling in the Eyes: Poor tear distribution, too few tears, or imbalanced tear film layers can lead to a rough or gritty feeling. The eyes are not getting the proper nourishment they need from tears, and the lack of wetness causes these sensations.
- Light Sensitivity: Researchers don’t know why people with dry eyes experience light sensitivity (photophobia). However, there is a theory that eye irritation and inflammation affect the trigeminal nerve around the cornea. People with chronic dry eyes are more likely to be hypersensitive to light.
- Blurry Vision: Dry eyes and watery eyes can cause vision disruptions. Severe cases of dry eyes can make blinking uncomfortable because the eyelids stick to the eye’s surface, an issue most often seen with MGD.
Dry Eye Prevention Tips & Treatments
Some lifestyle changes can improve dry eye symptoms. Our eye doctors have these tips:
- Blink more regularly during screen use and take breaks using the 20-20-20 rule. (Look 20 feet away every 20 minutes for 20 seconds.)
- A humidifier can help ease dry eyes at home or in your workplace.
- Wraparound sunglasses can help you avoid outdoor irritants and allergens.
- Avoid fans and heaters that blow air into your eyes.
- Don’t spend too much time in desert climates or at high altitudes.
- Stay away from windy or dusty environments and other airborne irritants or wear protective eyewear.
- Minimize dust, pet dander, and pollen in your home to reduce dry eye symptoms and eye allergies, which can feed off of each other.
Treatments for dry eye disease focus on adding tears, conserving existing tears, increasing tear production, or treating contributing issues causing eyelid or eye inflammation. It often takes a combination approach for the best results. Professional and at-home treatment for dry eyes may include:
iLux is a handheld device that heats the meibomian glands and gently massages the eyelids to melt blockages and encourage healthy oil flow to improve tear film.
BlephEx removes biofilm and debris from under the eyelids that tend to accumulate with age and long-term contact lens wear. This dry eye treatment can eliminate the cause of the inflammation to improve eyelid function and tear production.
Over-The-Counter Artificial Tears and Prescription Eye Drops
OTC artificial tears can improve dry eye symptoms by supplementing natural tears. Ointments, eyelid cleaners, and prescription eye drops may be recommended to decrease ocular surface inflammation.
Oral fatty acids can improve oil quality and secretion of the meibomian glands in patients with MGD. Omega-3 fatty acids decrease swelling on the eye’s surface and eyelid inflammation. Olive oil, fish oil, flaxseed oil, and DHA supplements may help. Our eye doctors may recommend you take additional vitamins for dry eyes, such as Vitamin A, Vitamin B12, and Vitamin D.
Warm Compresses and Washing the Eyelids
Heat and massaging the eyelids combined with improved hygiene can relieve some dry eye symptoms. Warm compresses on the eyes help to release clogged oil in the meibomian glands, and washing the eyelids with a clean washcloth, soap, and warm water can decrease discomfort.
Contact Laser Eye Center™ About Dry Eye Treatment
Laser Eye Center™ has six convenient locations throughout the SoCal area. If you struggle with dry eye symptoms, schedule a free consult with one of our esteemed ophthalmologists at (800) 805-2737.
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