The typical patient in my practice who has chronic dry is women over 50 whose symptoms can cause a great deal of personal distress. There’s no denying that age is a major cause of chronic dry eye, that women are more likely to develop dry eye, and that hormonal changes brought on by menopause increase the chances of a mid-life onset of the condition that affects 20 to 30 million Americans.
However, the face of dry eye in our practice is changing and what is driving that change is the increasing use of electronic devices by everyone of any age. We’re spending more and more time poring over smartphones, tablets, computer, or television screens – one 2016 study estimated we’re up to an average of 10 hours a day.1 And all that time screen-time is drying younger and younger eyes. Studies show that the normal blink rate of 20 times a minute drops to 3 to 5 times a minute when we are on digital devices. This causes drying of the ocular surface, which is often accompanied by fluctuating or blurred vision, redness, burning, mild itching, headache, and/or eye strain.
In our practice we are seeing increasing numbers of college aged young adults with dry eye symptoms. In fact dry eye is the number one medical condition that motivates patients to seek our care. This is a result of aging baby boomers, increasing numbers of patients with diabetes as well as everyone staring at their electronic devices!
Here are some simple strategies to control or relieve dry eye symptoms:
• Control the airflow. Don’t blast the car heater or air conditioning directly into your face, or sleep with a ceiling fan directly over your bed
• Dodge the draft. If cold or hot air is blowing on you at work, close the vent, or, if possible, change your desk orientation.
• Use a humidifier. They’re especially essential if you live in a dry climate.
• Lower your screen. Looking down at your computer means less exposed eye area, which means less area for tear evaporation to occur.
• Live by the 20/20/20 rule. Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break from staring at your computer, and look 20 feet away. The suggestion relaxes the muscles that help with up-close reading.
If you are still symptomatic, supplementation with artificial tears, uses of goggles to sleep in, and new prescription agents that help dry eye symptoms are available. I am appy to see you to help you with your dry eye symptoms and to evaluate your eye health.