DEAR DR. GOTT: I am in great pain with dry eyes at night. I am 90. I use a lot of eyedrops and have to use warm compresses to open my lids at night. Do you have any information you can share?
DEAR READER: Dry eyes are rather common as people age. The condition occurs when the normal tearing process fails to provide sufficient moisture for your eyes. The condition is known as keratoconjunctivitis sicca. Tears are a combination of electrolytes, water, fatty oils and proteins. In your case, an imbalance is occurring. Dry eyes can burn or sting. You might experience blurred vision that worsens as the day progresses, sensitivity to light and susceptibility to cigarette smoke or the wind when you are outside.
Those people most likely to develop dry eyes are postmenopausal women, those with damage to the tear glands (perhaps from inflammation or radiation), those 50 and older, people who have had laser eye surgery, a history of diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren’s syndrome, a thyroid disorder, a vitamin A deficiency and more.
Medications including include decongestants, antihistamines, pain relievers (such as over-the-counter ibuprofen or naproxen), blood-pressure remedies and others can be the culprit. Beyond that, excessive demands on the eyes from computer work, dry air and wind can complicate or cause the problem.
You will have to determine what is causing the problem. For example, if you are on a medication with dry eyes as a potential side effect, a modification to another product or change in dosage might help. If an autoimmune disorder such as Sjogren’s syndrome or rheumatoid arthritis is to blame, perhaps a visit to a rheumatologist might be in order. There are medications available such as antibiotics, those prescribed for corneal inflammation and eye inserts that act as artificial tears. You might consider adding omega-3-rich fish such as salmon and tuna or omega-3 supplements to your regular diet. Research has indicated this could help.
Last but not least, avoid situations that worsen your situation. If, for example, you drive a car and have the heat blowing toward your face, divert the vent so you stay warm but don’t have the direct exposure. If you walk frequently, wear eye protection such as glasses or goggles to keep the wind from striking your eyes. If the air in your home is dry, add a humidifier. And of course, avoid tobacco smoke. There’s help for you. Get to the root of the problem, and take the necessary steps.