Q: Is it true that Dry Eye symptoms seem to be more severe in the winter than in the warmer spring and summer months?
Dr. Shapiro: Yes, it is true that winter makes Dry Eye symptoms worse with use of heat at home and at work. Here in San Diego, these symptoms really are year-round since our environment is temperate and we don’t have the major seasonal changes seen in other parts of the country.
Q: When should a person come in to see their optometrist for Dry Eye symptoms and when is it enough to take care of this problem yourself?
Dr. Shapiro: Any time a patient experiences issues with dry eyes they should come in and see our professionals to fully treat all the symptoms and sequelae of this disease. However, many responses to Dry Eye Disease are not always related by patients to dry eyes. Things like scratchy burning eyes are easily connected to dryness, but there are other consequences of Dry Eye Disease that are not as readily connected by the patient to their dry eyes. Blurry vision or eye strain can many times be related to Dry Eye Disease and can be treated to relieve vision issues that the patient might not connect to their dry eyes.
Q: What is the examination like to determine whether someone is suffering from Dry Eyes?
Dr. Shapiro: Dry Eye Disease has many components to it and so there are numerous tests that need to be done to correctly diagnose and then correctly treat this disease. We have questionnaires that help guide our doctors to the correct tests to run. The examination consists of vital dye tests to quantify and qualify the tears themselves to determine if there is a reduction of tear volume and/or a reduction in the quality of the tears themselves. We inspect the cornea and conjunctiva for signs of tissue breakdown or devitalized tissue that are an outcome of Dry Eye Disease. We measure the time it takes for patients tear layer to begin evaporating to help determine the route needed to start treatment. We examine the eyelids and lid margins for signs of inflammation and/or infection that may be influencing the course of the disease.
Q: I have a friend in whose eyes are frequently overly watery. That isn’t Dry Eye, is it?
Dr. Shapiro: Watery eyes are one of the more common signs and symptoms of Dry Eye Disease. When the outer layer of the tears does not have enough oils to keep the watery portion of the tears from evaporating the body tries to compensate for this by producing an excess of the watery tears and unfortunately these watery tears do not do a good job of lubricating the front surface of the eye and this results in excessively watery tears that eventually start overflowing the lid margins and irritating the eyes and lids.
Q: What are the typical treatments used to help people suffering from Dry Eyes?
Dr. Shapiro: There are numerous treatments available for Dry Eye Disease and we tailor the exact treatment to the individual based on our testing and examination results. The treatment can range from specific over the counter eye drops to nutritional supplements and recommendations to in-office procedures to treat the lid margins and improve tear production, to home treatments, to prescription eye drops and oral medications. Dry Eye Disease is a disease not just a minor irritant and needs to be treated as such by treating the entire patient and doing so on an individual patient basis as needed to treat that individuals needs.
Q: Are some people more prone to having Dry Eyes than others?
Dr. Shapiro: People are more prone to Dry Eye Disease as we get older, but many other factors play a role in the disease progression. People who spend more time on digital devices (more and more of us each day) are more prone to the symptoms of Dry Eye. Environmental factors can play a role in the process such as dry office spaces or homes, as well as windy and/or dusty environments. Allergies can add to Dry Eye Disease symptoms. Patients medications many times have the unintended side effect of causing Dry Eye symptoms to start or get worse. All of these factors need to be evaluated as part of the Dry Eye Disease workup.
Q: Do you have any recommendations for people to help them avoid Dry Eye issues?
Dr. Shapiro: There are things you can do to help reduce your exposure to factors the make Dry Eye symptoms worse, such as reducing digital device usage (good luck with that) and taking frequent breaks from the digital devices, avoiding windy or dry environments as much as possible and having a good diet that can be discussed with our doctors. The best advice is to have an annual eye exam and stay on top of early treatment in order to keep the disease from progressing to even more virulent forms of Dry Eye Disease. In addition, any time during the course of the year that you feel that you might be exhibiting signs or symptoms of Dry Eye certainly come in and have our doctors examine you specifically for this and treat it as needed for your individual needs.