Dry eyes? Wear sunglasses even when it’s cloudy and cold!

If you regularly find yourself wiping away tears, you might not think of dry eyes — but that’s the most likely cause, and the cure could be as simple as wearing sunglasses, even on a cloudy, wintry day.

Dry eyes, although already a common problem affecting up to 30 percent of people over 50, are becoming more common. According to a recent survey of 2,000 people by eye care specialist Thea UK, there has been a 19 percent increase in dry eye diagnoses over the past 12 months.

In addition to feeling gritty, dry eyes — counterintuitively — lead to overproduction of tears, which is the body’s way of trying to rehydrate the surface of the eye.

And while it’s only a mild irritation for some, severe cases can lead to impaired vision and irreversible eye damage, says Alex Ionides, consultant ophthalmologist at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London.

Dry eyes, although already a common problem affecting up to 30 percent of people over 50, are becoming more common.  According to a recent survey of 2,000 people by eye care specialist Thea UK, there has been a 19 percent increase in dry eye diagnoses over the past 12 months

Dry eyes, although already a common problem affecting up to 30 percent of people over 50, are becoming more common. According to a recent survey of 2,000 people by eye care specialist Thea UK, there has been a 19 percent increase in dry eye diagnoses over the past 12 months

Dry eyes are becoming more common with age because

With age, dry eyes become more common because “from the age of 50, the meibomian glands do not produce enough oily secretion to completely cover the cornea, which means that the tears are not trapped and are more likely to evaporate,” explains Mr. Ionides.

The eyes are usually lubricated by the tear film: the first layer consists of what Mr. Ionides likens to “transparent mucus, which covers the cornea [the clear outer surface of the eye] bathed in liquid’.

On top of this mucosal “mucus” is a watery layer of tears. This has antibacterial properties and helps keep the cornea healthy. On top of that is the top oily layer produced by the meibomian glands (small glands in the eyelids), which seal the moisture and prevent it from evaporating.

Dry eyes become more common with age because “from the age of 50, the meibomian glands do not produce enough oily secretion to completely cover the cornea, which means that the tears are not trapped and are more likely to evaporate,” explains the Lord Ionides.

People who have undergone laser eye surgery can also get dry eyes because the procedure can decrease the sensitivity of nerves in the surface of the eye, which normally feel the need to produce tears.

People who have undergone laser eye surgery can also get dry eyes because the procedure can decrease the sensitivity of nerves in the surface of the eye, which normally feel the need to produce tears.

The condition is also common during menopause, adds Nigel Kirkpatrick, an ophthalmologist at Newmedica, a chain of NHS and private ophthalmology clinics.

‘Due to the drop in estrogen, the mucous membranes dry out and the glands produce less of the important moisturizing fluids. This can make the eyes feel gritty, inflamed and look red.”

But why are dry eyes becoming more common? This is partly due to the increased use of air conditioning and central heating (which also increase evaporation) and increasing screen time as we blink less, and blinking spreads moisture across the surface of the eye.

But the increased use of contact lenses is also the cause, because this allows more of your tear film to evaporate. “Contact lenses float half-submerged in the tear film, which can disrupt the careful moisture balance, leading to increased evaporation,” says Ionides.

People who have undergone laser eye surgery can also get dry eyes because the procedure can decrease the sensitivity of nerves in the surface of the eye, which normally feel the need to produce tears.

Dry eyes can also affect vision. “The tear film is the first surface that light hits as it enters the eye,” says Ionides. “If it’s of poor quality, the image can be blurry, and if the cornea isn’t flooded with enough tears, it can become uncomfortable and sensitive to light.”

‘If severe dry eyes are not treated they can lead to inflammation of the tissues around the eye, abrasion of the corneal surface and corneal ulcers,’ says Mr Kirkpatrick. “In extreme cases, it can lead to vision loss.”

The eyes are usually lubricated by the tear film: the first layer consists of what Mr. [the clear outer surface of the eye] bathed in liquid¿.  On top of this mucous membrane is a watery tear layer.  This has antibacterial properties and helps keep the cornea healthy.  On top of that is the top oily layer produced by the meibomian glands (small glands in the eyelids), which seal the moisture and prevent it from evaporating

The eyes are usually lubricated by the tear film: the first layer consists of what Mr. Ionides likens to “transparent mucus, which covers the cornea [the clear outer surface of the eye] bathed in liquid’. On top of this mucosal “mucus” is a watery layer of tears. This has antibacterial properties and helps keep the cornea healthy. On top of that is the top oily layer produced by the meibomian glands (small glands in the eyelids), which seal the moisture and prevent it from evaporating

Mild cases may respond well to a warm flannel over the eyes. “The heat melts the oily secretions in the meibomian glands, making them more fluid, and gently massaging your eyes empties the contents of the corneal glands to replenish the outer oily layer,” says Ionides.

And putting on sunglasses when you go out on a cold, windy day (regardless of whether the sun is shining) will limit the evaporation of your tears.

Sunglasses, like eyeglasses, create a pocket of warm, humidified air in front of the eyes, protecting them from the evaporative impact of a breeze.

And don’t forget to blink. “During periods of intense concentration, the eyes avoid blinking unconsciously to avoid losing sight of the complicated task,” says Ionides. “But this gives the tears more time to evaporate.”

Taking a break from contact lens wear also helps if you have dry eyes, says Mr. Ionides.

“If you don’t wear them for a week or so, dry eye symptoms often go away as the tear film returns to its normal composition and structure.”

As for eye drops, most of them contain the chemicals polyethylene glycol and propylene glycol, which coat the eye and prevent evaporation of the tear film.

Optometrists recommend choosing products that are “preservative free” to avoid chemicals that could irritate already irritated eyes.

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