Why Are My Eyes Dry?
Many of you are probably familiar with the condition known as “Dry Eye.” It has become more common and well known in recent years. There are various causes and forms of treatment for dry eye. Some people have dry eye because their bodies don’t produce enough tears or because the tears produced evaporate more quickly than normal. Treatments include nutritional supplements to improve tear quality, artificial tears and other eye drops/ointments, and tiny plugs to stop tears from draining away from the eyes. All of these treatments assume that there is something physically wrong.
I have treated many people with dry eyes over the years. I have not used any of the above methods (with the exception of nutritional recommendations) to treat dry eye symptoms. One reason for this is that I do not delve into the medical aspects of eye care - I have experienced colleagues who help my patients with these things. The other, more important reason is that many cases of dry eye are caused by visual stress. People who spend their workday at the computer or desk are under consistent visual stress. The human visual system was not designed for this kind of workload. (Tune in next time for an in-depth description of why this is the case.) Not everyone is symptomatic, but many people are unaware of the toll this takes on their visual systems. Many people do exhibit symptoms like eye fatigue, headaches, neck aches, dry eyes, etc.
Sandy Had Dry Eyes
Let me tell you about a 25 year old woman, recently out of college and working long days at a computer in a windowless room. She contacted me from out-of-town. We’ll call her Sandy. She had been to numerous doctors trying to solve her visual complaints. Sandy was having trouble seeing in the distance and getting frequent headaches, double vision and eye fatigue. She was also experiencing severe dry eyes. The only doctor who had any kind of answer, provided her with punctal plugs - these are the tiny plugs I mentioned earlier that stop the tears from draining away from the eyes, which they are meant to do. The plugs are usually reserved for people who are not producing enough tears in order to allow the tears to stay on the eyes longer, keeping them moister.
Sandy was still extremely uncomfortable and frustrated when we first met. She still had frequent eye discomfort, headaches, double vision and her eyes still felt dry. Plus, people kept asking her why she was crying because her tears, now unable to drain properly, were constantly running down her cheeks. Sandy clearly didn’t have any problem producing tears. Maybe something else was causing her dry eye sensation. And what about all her other complaints?
It turned out that Sandy had eye teaming issues, focusing problems and eye movement deficiencies. Remember, Sandy is a college graduate and a dedicated employee. She made it to where she is by hard work and perseverance. It is very likely that her visual conditions were present well before she became symptomatic, quite likely beginning at an early age. She pushed through since nobody ever diagnosed her considerable vision issues. She needed someone to dig deeper in order to understand the causes of her problems and provide treatment that would address all the issues.
In Sandy’s case, all it took was the proper lenses. However, these were not the typical lenses that most people are familiar with. These lenses were not prescribed for nearsightedness or farsightedness or astigmatism as is the usual case for young people like Sandy. I prescribed lenses for Sandy to use while at the computer, since all the close work she was doing was strongly implicated in her complaints. These lenses did not change how clear things looked, at least not directly. They changed the way the brain was responding to visual demands in a way that improved her eye teaming and focusing. It is likely that Sandy’s situation would have improved even more had she been able to try vision therapy, but she lived too far away and her schedule was too busy. Thankfully, the lenses had enough of an impact to stop her headaches and double vision almost immediately. Within a short period of time, all her symptoms, including her nearsightedness and dry eyes, were gone.
Before just jumping into medical treatment for your eyes, consider getting a second opinion from an optometrist who knows to look deeper and think outside the box. Not only will you possibly avoid unnecessary medical treatment, but if it turns out that proper lenses and/or vision therapy is the real answer to your problems, you get much more than you ever bargained for. And I mean that in a very good way.
Next time: Too Close For Comfort