As the saying goes, “the eyes are the window to the soul,” and if you have dry eyes, that “window” could use some attention. Whether the problem is due to allergies or something else, there are treatments and simple changes in your lifestyle that you can make to feel, and look, better.
Dry eyes, sometimes just called “dry eye,” is a common problem. It’s more likely after age 50, and it's more often reported by women than by men.
You get dry eye if your eyes have problems with tears, including when:
- Tears are not made properly.
- Tears evaporate too fast.
Is It Allergies?
There are many reasons you can have dry eyes. Allergies are one possible explanation. But there are many others, such as:
- Side effect of medications
- Hormone replacement therapy for women
- LASIK surgery
- Not blinking often enough
- Wearing contact lenses for the long term
- Immune system problems like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis
- Eyelid infection (blepharitis)
- Not completely blinking after cosmetic eyelid surgery
Since there are so many possible reasons, you shouldn’t assume that allergies are the explanation. Your eye doctor can help you find out what’s going on.
Your treatment should focus on the root cause of your dry eyes.
If you have allergies and dry eyes, and take antihistamines for the allergies, you may have to stop taking them, since antihistamines can make dry eye worse.
Depending on what you’re allergic to, you can take a variety of steps to ease your allergy symptoms (including dry eyes):
- Close windows in your house and car when pollen counts are high, and use air conditioning.
- Wear sunglasses or glasses when you’re outside. This will help keep pollen out of your eyes.
- Use special mattress covers on your bed to cut down on dust mites.
- Use a dehumidifier when humidity in your house is high to help cut down on mold.
- Wash your hands after you pet a dog or cat.
- Purchase air purifier devices for the rooms you spend the most time in, such as your bedroom.
- Use artificial tears to lubricate as well as wash allergens out of your eyes.
If you havedry eye without allergies, there are also treatments.
Your doctor may prescribe cyclosporine, which helps fight inflammation. Or they might change one of your prescriptions if your dry eye is a medication side effect.
You can also ask your eye doctor if your contact lenses are the problem. You might need to try different lenses, or even stop wearing them completely.
Your doctor may also recommend a procedure that only takes a minute to plug the holes that allow tears to drain from the eyes to the nose. This is painless and easy to do in the office.
There are also everyday changes you can make -- such as trying to blink more often and eating fish that are naturally rich in omega-3 fatty acids -- to help your eyes stay moist. Flax oil, which you take by mouth, can also help.
If you only have dry eye every now and then, or your symptoms are mild, you may be able to get some relief from simple remedies and from over-the-counter eye drops (often called “artificial tears”).
In addition to over-the-counter artificial tears, decongestant eye drops may help. But if you have red eyes, you shouldn’t take them for more than a week, as they can make the redness worse.