Dry Eye Syndrome: There's A Reason Your Eyes Are So Dry ATM (And It's Not Hayfever)
Featured Image Credit: Unsplash
Found yourself with sore, dry and irritated eyes more recently? Even when there isn't pollen in the air? Well, you're not alone.
The last 18 months or so have been tough on our wellbeing all round but our vision is a somewhat forgotten victim throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
New research by Essilor has discovered around 13 million Brits (around one in four of us!) are now suffering from Dry Eye Syndrome - and the rise in cases comes from the change in our day-to-day circumstances.
"Dry Eye is caused when your eyes don't produce enough lubricant or tears to keep them moist at all times, or quick evaporation of tears," leading optical specialist Dr Andy Hepworth explains to Tyla. "It is this lack of lubrication which makes yours eyes feel gritty, tired and irritated.
"Symptoms are varied, but most people experience a scratchy, gritty feeling that they just can't shift, redness and puffiness, fatigued eyes that don't want to open, even when they've had enough sleep, blurred vision, sensitivity to bright light and sometimes excessive watering.
"More severe symptoms can be photophobia (light intolerance), eye pain and deterioration in vision."
The sudden spike in Dry Eye Syndrome comes as a response to an increasing number of us were forced to stay indoors, thanks to lockdown. In the winter months, when weather was cold, we were exposed to more central heating than usual.
And we're all guilty of indulging in far more screen time than we would have liked, as the pandemic meant trips to restaurants, bars and nightclubs were replaced by endless Netflix bingeing.
"You only have to look at some of the recent figures on screen time to see how our eyes are taking the strain of 'virtual living,'" Dr Hepworth explains.
"UK adults purchased up to 21 million new digital devices - including TVs, games consoles and laptops - during lockdown according to research and internet usage in the UK increased by 78 per cent."
Other factors that could lead to dry, sore eyes include side-effects of medicine, hormonal changes, and wearing contact lenses for prolonged periods of time.
However, Dr. Hepworth urges people to exercise caution, as Dry Eye Syndrome is very different from hayfever.
"They can present very similarly," he explains. "One of the main differentiators is itchiness - people suffering from hayfever are more likely to experience an intense itching sensation, whilst Dry Eye Syndrome sufferers are more likely to complain of a gritty feeling, redness and over watering.
"If you are unsure if you are suffering from Dry Eye or hayfever make an appointment with your optician who will be able to advise."
While Dry Eye Syndrome is relatively common, if left untreated, it can lead to significant eye problems and impact your vision in the long term.
"It can sometimes increase the chances of other complications such as inflammation of the cornea and conjunctivitis, whilst in more extreme cases Dry Eye Syndrome can lead to corneal scratches and impact vision," Dr Hepworth says.
"Dry Eye Syndrome can be managed with drops that lubricate the eyes in a natural way, giving relief from the uncomfortable symptoms. There are also other lifestyle factors that you should also take into account - get plenty of sleep to rest your eyes, don't overwear your contact lenses and practice good lens hygiene, take regular breaks from computer screens and make sure that your screen is at eye level so that you don't strain your eyes."
As with most things, the best protection against Dry Eye Syndrome is avoid getting it altogether, which can be achieved by giving your eyes some TLC - particularly when it comes to computer work.
"Spending long periods of time looking at a screen can have significant impact on our eyes. In some cases it can cause Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS) which in turn can exacerbate the symptoms of Dry Eye Syndrome," Dr Hepworth says.
"Issues arise because screen distance can make eyes work harder, this is amplified by pixels constantly refreshing and the eyes constantly needing to refocus to see the screen clearly. If this is happening over long periods of time then the muscles within the eye are unable to recover from the strain.
"It is also proven that people blink less frequently when staring at a screen, which causes eyes to dry, become slightly itchy and in some cases can result in blurred vision. Glasses wearers that have incorrect or outdated prescription lenses can also be more likely to suffer from CVS."
He adds: "Make sure that you enforce regular breaks from screens every 20 minutes - this should include the whole family. An easy way to get into a positive habit is to follow the 20:20:20 rule. Every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
"You can also try eye yoga - this can be done anywhere, anytime. Look to the left, hold the position, repeat looking right. Look up, hold the position, repeat looking down. Repeat four times, closing your eyes and relaxing in between.
"If possible take a complete screen break and go for a walk outside for some fresh air and a complete change of scenery to give you eyes a proper rest."
"Your diet is also crucial to improving and maintaining your eye health," Dr Hepworth says. "A balanced diet that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, leafy vegetables, lutein, vitamin E, A and Zinc will help to keep your eyes in tip top condition and can even help ward off some age-related eye conditions."