Rise in debilitating eye condition, but it can be successfully managed
Computer and smart phone users are urged to take a break from their devices after an alarming increase in people suffering from dry eye syndrome.
Perth optometrist Dr Darrell Baker said dry eye was a massive issue that was linked to the amount of time people spent looking at screens.
“Dry Eye is a disease that now affects about 20 per cent of adults,” said Dr Baker.
“It is a growing health problem around the world,” he said.
“This trend is worrying because dry eye can cause permanent damage if left untreated.”
Lesmurdie 18-year-old Asher Harris has suffered from red, sore, itchy eyes all her life.
Despite seeing numerous specialists, no one could tell her what was wrong and she continued to suffer.
That was until a chance meeting with Perth Optometrist Dr Darrell Baker, who diagnosed her with dry eye.
“I’ve had it my whole life – I’ve got a long medical history,” said Miss Harris.
“I had blurred vision and it was hard to see when driving at night.”
Miss Harris said she did not spend an excessive amount of time looking at computers and her smart phone, but “it definitely didn’t help.”
Dr Baker said Miss Harris’ glands near her eyes didn’t produce enough tears for lubrication.
With a personalised treatment plan, including eye drops, Miss Harris is successfully managing her condition.
Dr Baker, the Optometry Australia national board president, said dry eye was caused by a lack of lubrication and moisture to the surface of the eye.
“The condition can be quite debilitating for sufferers and can affect their quality of life,” said Dr Baker.
He said dry eye was one of the main reasons people visited his Eyes on Oxford clinic.
“With more people spending time in front of digital devices, many are suffering from dry eye symptoms,” said Dr Baker.
“People don’t blink as much when they are in front of a computer or using a smart phone,” he said.
“If you’re blinking less, the tears on your eyes have more time to evaporate, resulting in red and dry eyes.”
The symptoms of dry eye include blurry and fluctuating vision, redness, and sore, itchy eyes.
Dry Eye can cause constant eye irritation, significant inflammation and permanent scarring to the surface of the eye.
Dr Baker said people using digital devices could help prevent dry eye by:
- Blinking more often: blinking moistens the eyes to prevent dryness and irritation. Every half hour, blink 10 times by closing your eyes as if falling asleep – this will rewet your eyes.
- Taking frequent breaks: take frequent breaks during your workday. Aim to take at least a 10-minute break every hour.
- Ensuring lid hygiene: keep lids clean, especially if they get crusty.
- Eating Omega-3 fatty acids: include plenty of oily fish, chia seeds, walnuts in your diet or take supplements.
- Humidifying the room: use a humidifier or place bowls of water in the room.
Dr Baker urged people suffering from dry eye to seek professional help to find out what was causing the condition and the best treatment options.
Other causes of dry eye related to our modern lifestyle include allergies, air conditioning, a diet low in vitamin A and wearing contact lenses.
While there is no cure for dry eye, Dr Baker said the condition could be successfully managed. The aim of treatment options is to increase tear production, maintain tear film volume or prevent loss of tears.
Personalised treatment plans for dry eye patients include:
- Artificial tears: Optometrists can prescribe eye drops, gels or oitments formulated to reduce dryness and irritation.
- Steroid eye drops: to reduce inflammation.
- Warm compressions: to help open clogged glands that produce oils that keep eyes lubricated.
- Intense pulsed light (IPL): stimulates and unblocks the glands. Can provide long-lasting relief.
- Red light therapy (RTL): increases the tear break-up time.
Dr Baker said patients who managed their dry eye condition successfully reported increased comfort, fewer symptoms and sharper vision.
New research in the UK supports Dr Baker’s concerns. A study commissioned by Philips LED lighting revealed screen time reduced the normal blink rate by 60 per cent, resulting in health issues such as dry eye syndrome.
The Sydney Dry Eye Institute predicts that four million Australians now suffer from dry eye.
The institute reports the economic burden of dry eye is estimated at $330.5m per year.