Millions of people are affected by dry eye syndrome and the prevalence of dry eye increases with age. An estimated 3.2 million women and over and 1.68 million men age 50 and over are affected by dry eye syndrome.
Here are some risk factors for dry eye:
Aging: Advancing age is the single most important risk factor for dry eye. Most of our body’s moisture-producing glands produce less moisture as we age.
Gender: Women are twice as likely as men to suffer from dry eye. Changes in hormone levels throughout your lifetime often affect the amount of moisture produced by the lacrimal glands that produce tears.
Medical problems: Several diseases result in increased risk for dry eye syndrome, including rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, thyroid abnormalities, asthma, cataracts, glaucoma, and lupus.
Medication: Certain medications can decrease the body's ability to produce lubricating tears.
Contact lenses: Dry eye is the leading cause of contact lens discomfort or intolerance.
Environmental conditions: Exposure to smoke, fluorescent lights, air pollution, wind, heat, air conditioning, and dry climates can increase tear evaporation.
Computer users: People who spend many hours staring at computer screens tend to blink significantly less often. Not blinking allows the eyes to dry faster.
Refractive surgery: This increases the risk of dry eye. Surgery often interferes with the superficial nerves on the cornea. Properly functioning nerves are necessary to help keep the eye surface moist.
Dry eye can present in many different ways. You can have irritation (often presenting as a foreign body feeling on the eye surface), redness, burning, excessive tearing (yes, that sounds counterintuitive but dry eye often presents this way), or intermittent blurring of vision.
The only way to be sure your symptoms are truly a dry eye problem is to have a comprehensive exam by your ophthalmologist or optometrist. There are other problems, such as allergic reactions and blepharitis, that can create similar symptoms so you need to be examined to determine which of these issues is causing your symptoms.
Article contributed by Dr. Brian Wnorowski, M.D.
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