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Can an Optometrist Treat Dry Eye?

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An optometrist applying eye drops to the right eye of his patient to alleviate eye dryness.

Dry eye disease is a common and often chronic condition that can cause discomfort in various forms, from occasional dryness and irritation to significant pain. The impact of dry eye disease on quality of life can range from slightly bothersome to a significant detriment to daily living. 

But you don’t have to suffer with dry eyes. While you can’t cure dry eye, your optometrist can diagnose and effectively treat it based on the underlying cause for symptom relief. 

What Is Dry Eye Disease?

Dry eye disease occurs when the quantity or quality of tears is insufficient to keep the eyes properly lubricated. Healthy tears are a complex mix of water, mucus, and oil. This mix forms the tear film and helps the eyes remain clear and comfortable. 

When your tear film is unstable, or the production of tears is inadequate, it can result in dry eye symptoms. Dry eye symptoms can manifest in a variety of ways, including:

  • A gritty or sandy feeling in the eyes
  • Stinging or burning sensation
  • Redness
  • Blurry vision
  • Excessive tearing
  • Sensitivity to light

Causes and risk factors for dry eye can range from environmental influences, such as dry air or irritants like pollution, to other causes, such as:

  • Age: Tear production decreases as you age. 
  • Hormonal changes: Pregnancy and menopause can affect tear production.
  • Systemic problems: Health conditions, such as diabetes, can affect tears and lead to dry eyes. 
  • Medications: Dry eye can be a side effect of certain medications. 
  • Problems with blinking: Long hours spent in front of screens can lead to infrequent blinking and dry eye symptoms. 

Diagnosing Dry Eye Disease

If you suffer from dry eye symptoms, take the dry eye quiz. However, diagnosing dry eye requires a comprehensive evaluation by an optometrist. A comprehensive eye exam includes discussing your symptoms, medical history, and lifestyle, such as work and home environment. 

Your optometrist can identify any underlying conditions contributing to or causing dry eye. Using various diagnostic tools and tests, they can measure tear production and evaluate the quality and distribution of your tears. 

Can an Optometrist Treat Dry Eye?

Seeking help from your optometrist can lead to early and accurate diagnosis and appropriate management, which can prevent dry eye from progressing to a more severe stage. Optometrists offer a range of in-office and at-home treatments for dry eye, tailoring the approach to suit the individual patient. 

They are qualified to manage ocular symptoms and coordinate care with other healthcare providers, when necessary, to treat any underlying systemic conditions if they contribute to your discomfort. 

While over-the-counter treatments might provide temporary relief, they don’t address the underlying cause of dry eye. Furthermore, self-diagnosis can lead to inappropriate treatments that may worsen symptoms or result in unnecessary costs.

While dry eye disease has no cure, it’s a chronic condition that your optometrist can effectively manage with treatment plans that include the following:

  • Over-the-counter eye drops for additional lubrication.
  • Prescription eye drops reduce eye inflammation and stimulate the body’s natural tear production.
  • Lifestyle recommendations such as nutritional supplements and adjusting your work/home environment.
  • Eyelid hygiene treatments clean the eyelid margins and remove bacteria and biofilm that can clog the oil glands in the eyelids. 
  • Advanced procedures, like pulsed light therapy, can target the oil glands in the eye to improve tear quality. 
An assortment of Omega-3 rich food on a wooden table.

Tips for Preventing & Managing Dry Eye 

Small changes in your daily habits can significantly improve your ocular comfort, such as:

  • Taking regular breaks during screen time.
  • Prioritizing proper nutrition, such as including omega-3 fatty acids in your diet.
  • Use a humidifier in your home or workspace.

Home Remedies & When to Reach Out

Home remedies and warm compresses can offer some relief, but for longer-term management, an optometrist’s guidance is essential. They can recommend more targeted treatments and lifestyle changes to manage dry eyes and improve overall vision comfort.

Without treatment, dry eye can affect the quality of life and vision. Chronic and excessive dry eye can damage the sensitive corneal tissues at the front of the eye. Scarring of these tissues can lead to impaired vision, increased irritation, difficulty wearing contact lenses, and an increased risk of eye infections. 

Dry Eye Relief with Your Eye Doctor

Dry eye might be a common ocular surface disease, but it’s highly manageable and treatable with the right approach. Professional care from your optometrist means you can receive a tailored treatment plan with in-office and at-home strategies that address the symptoms and the underlying causes of your dry eye. You don’t have to live with dry eye symptoms and discomfort; contact St. Clair Eye Clinic to start your journey to more comfortable, clear vision.

Written by Dr. Neel Vyas

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