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Understanding Dry Eye Syndrome

Updated on March 28, 2015

What is Dry Eye Syndrome?

Dry eye syndrome can be characterized by more than one occurrence of blurry vision, having the sensation of something trapped in the eye upon blinking, eye itching, burning, watering, swelling, or sensitivity to wind or sunlight. Dryness can occur in spots, causing double vision, or affect the entire surface of the eyes.

Causes of Dry Eyes

Eye dryness can lead to dry eye syndrome through the use of contact lenses, having hay fever, blepharitis, rosacea, thyroid disorders, or other illnesses and diseases, washing and cleaning with antibacterial products, infrequent blinking, eye strain from extensive computer work, and as a side-effect from certain medications and treatments. Pregnant or menopausal women can also be prone to developing dry eyes due to fluctuating hormones.

Home Remedies and Over-the-Counter Supplies to Buy

Alleviating your symptoms can be easily done over-the-counter. All you need are:

  • Moisturizing eye drops
  • Allergy eye drops (if needed)
  • Washcloth
  • Ice pack
  • Paraben-free, anti-bacterial-free soap for facial use OR anti-dandruff shampoo
  • Sleep goggles (if needed)

Using Eye Drops

At the first signs of discomfort, do NOT rub the eyes. Doing so will only make them prone to infections and increased dryness. Instead, use lubricating eye drops like GenTeal . At $10-$15 a bottle, these drops come in mild, medium, or severe allergy formulas, and can be used as often as needed (except in the case of the severe formula, which comes in gel form and is applied to lock in moisture overnight and impairs vision until fully absorbed). Unlike Visine, known for "getting the red out" temporarily, GenTeal moisturizes the eyes and treats the problem, not just the symptoms, and is preservative free.

If seasonal allergies are an issue, try allergy drops. Instead of paying $100 for a prescription (without insurance) for a 30 day supply to Elestat or Pataday, Zaditor is readily available for a fraction of the cost. At just $12-$14 a bottle, one drop per eye of Zaditor lasts 12 hours – no script or doctor visit required.

Washcloths, Washing, and Compresses

Good hygiene is also necessary to keep dirt and dust away. To remove or loosen debris from eyelids and around the eyes, lay a warm washcloth or compress on the eyes for up to 5 minutes, then rub gently with warm water and pat dry. Alternatively, you may use a mild soap (like Ivory or Dr. Bronner’s) as an eyelid scrub. Travel-sized bars or bottles are $2-$5 and will last for several weeks. Apply soap onto warm washcloth, or directly onto closed eyelids, then rub onto eyes in a circular motion. Gently rinse until soap is fully removed. Repeat each morning/night.

NOTE: If you are a blepharitis sufferer, you might find that anti-dandruff shampoos like Selsun Blue, Neutrogena T-Gel, or a gentle face wash like Cetaphil, (ranging from $1-$10 for travel and regular sizes) are more effective soap options. They will also alleviate symptoms of dry eyes and swelling associated with your condition without paying for a prescription steroid cream during flair-ups. Make sure to follow up cleansing with the use of a facial moisturizer to prevent eyelids and area around eyes from drying out.

Because eye dryness can be most prevalent upon waking, or just before bed, cold compresses are a quick way to soothe the eyes and lock in moisture. To reduce pain, swelling, or redness, wet a washcloth with cool water (or wrap cold compress/ice pack into a washcloth), and lay it directly on eyes for up to 5 minutes. In extreme cases of dry eye syndrome, specialized goggles for nightly use may be needed to prevent dry air from heating, air conditioning, or fan breeze to damage the eyes while sleeping.

When to Call the Doctor

Prolonged or worsening issues should be promptly evaluated by your medical doctor, as should the use of any treatments, prescriptions, and supplements, especially if you have other health problems. While you may decide to have an exam with a general practitioner, you may be referred to either an optometrist or ophthamologist.

An optometrist is an eye care doctor who diagnoses and corrects eye vision and health problems pertaining to the eyes, including vision therapies.

An ophthamologist is an eye care doctor who specializes in the diagnosis, correction, and treatment of vision and diseases, including medical procedures.

For the most part, either type of eye doctor can treat your dry eye syndrome; if however, you have a pre-existing eye condition, or need more extensive exams, you will be referred to an ophthamologist for care.

Alternative Medicine

Achieving eye and whole-body health can be assisted through conventional medicines as well as vitamin regimens, but they are not always effective if you also have any enzyme deficiencies that hinder your digestion. Balancing these enzymes can help vitamins absorb into the bloodstream more efficiently. Consider an evaluation with a chiropractor, naturopathist, gastroenterologist, or even a physical therapist licensed in enzyme therapy for which digestive enzymem formulas might be right for you.

Foods contain enzymes; every person digests them uniquely, based on what types of enzymes they can tolerate. The immune system becomes compromised when the digestive system can’t process something well or at all. This can happen after taking a round of antibiotics to cure an illness, or even from experiencing stress. When the body can’t replenish the enzymes needed throughout the body for any reason, deficiencies can occur. Alternative medicine suggests that by strengthening the immune system, allergy symptoms lessen.

It is possible to eliminate the use of eye drops, allergy drops, or even anti-histamines permanently as a result of using enzyme supplements in conjunction with a diet rich in raw fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and less processed foods. While enzyme formulas do not harm the body, specific enzyme needs range from person to person, and require a practitioner’s input to ensure each formula’s usefulness. For some individuals, enzyme levels regulate in a short amount of time, whereas other people may need to take enzymes indefinitely. Prices for enzyme supplements can range from $15-$40 a bottle at reputable health stores or holistic pharmacies.

Author's Note

The author has had experience with all methods mentioned in the course of this article and has had a plethora of eye conditions, including the diagnosis and treatment of: dry eyes, dry eye syndrome, kerititis, allergic conjunctivitis, astigmatism, near-sightedness, dry spots on eyes causing double vision, vertigo, seborrheic blepharitis, and rosacea (due to blepharitis). Having taken anti-histamines for years, she underwent a year of enzyme therapy and currently is medication-free, and no longer uses eye drops, antihistamines, or enzymes. She occasionally still has blepharitis flair-ups and maintains regular check-ups with her ophthamologist and chiropractor.


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