July 24, 2024

Advanced Ailment Care

Elevating Health Solutions

How to Prevent Against the Increasingly Prevalent Dry Eye Disease

3 min read
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If your eyes feel gritty or irritated or you’re suffering from blurred or fluctuating vision, it’s possible you have what’s simply called dry eye disease — one of the most common ocular conditions presenting symptoms that eye care providers see.

But it’s a serious problem, and one that affects everyday quality of life, says Dr. Sabrina Mukhtar, the director of the Dry Eye Center of Excellence at UPMC Vision Institute and assistant professor of cornea and refractive surgery in the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

“It’s very impactful on patients’ lives because they can’t do the things they want to do,” she says. 

Dry eye disease can be caused by environmental factors such as screen time (when you’re staring at a screen you’re not blinking as much), dry air or allergies, hormonal changes, autoimmune diseases, medications or prolonged contact lens wear, among other things, Mukhtar says. 

“The conservative number that I read, and this was a couple of years ago, is that 30 million people in the United States suffer from dry eye disease,” she says. “I think people spend about $2 billion on dry eye therapy. It’s very prevalent.”

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Evaporative dry eye, which accounts for the majority of dry eye disease, is caused by meibomian gland dysfunction, when the oil glands at the base of our eyelashes aren’t releasing healthy oils that prevent our tears from evaporating. 

Forcing yourself to give your eyes a break is important, she says. She advises patients to set a timer on their phone for every 20-30 minutes when they’re on a screen, watching TV or reading a book. When the timer goes off, take 20 seconds and blink 20 times.

“It’s the 20/20/20 rule,” she says. 

Even if you have 20/20 vision, she recommends enlarging the font size on your computer so your eyes aren’t strained.

“Using anti-glare monitors or settings on your computer, phone or tablet always helps,” she adds. “The environmental modifications are super important.” 

She also recommends pointing air-conditioning vents in your car away from your face so that air is not constantly blowing in your eyes. Ceiling fans can also cause problems, she says, especially when you’re sleeping. 

“Most of us don’t sleep with our eyes completely shut and if you have even a sliver of opening, your eyes are drying out,” she says. “Sleep is supposed to be restorative.”

One treatment she recommends is placing a warm compress on your eyes for 15 minutes twice a day. After you remove the heat, blink forcefully to express the heated oils in your eyes.

“I tell people, you brush and floss your teeth every day, hopefully twice a day, so your eyes deserve the same care,” she says. “When those oil glands get clogged up, it’s like the equivalent of plaque buildup.”

She says it’s only in the last five years that dry eye disease has been taken seriously as an ophthalmology specialty, and she’s seeing younger and younger populations come in for treatment, whether due to the prevalence of screens in their lives and work or because of their use of contact lenses.

“We’re still doing more studies, trying to figure out what contributes to it and how to prevent it because I think prevention is key,” she says. 


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